New Jersey residents got to spend July 4th the same way their governor spent the weekend after the overnight end of a three-day budget showdown. Beaches and parks reopened after legislative leaders announced a deal late on July 3rd. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto offered the concession that unlocked a deal, but not until Governor Chris Christie took a drubbing for his use of the beaches while locking everyone else out:
Prieto, who had refused to go along with the earlier version of the Horizon bill, told reporters just after 3 p.m. he had instructed his staff to start drafting a new bill that would give the state more control over the state-created, nonprofit health insurer of 3.8 million people.
Christie has made the insurance company’s restructuring a bargaining chip before he signs off on the state budget presented to him by the Democratically controlled Legislature.
Christie has ridiculed the $12 billion company for keeping $2.4 billion in reserve and for rebuffing his call for Horizon to donate $300 million to aid the state’s efforts to combat the heroin and opioid drug addiction epidemic.
Christie claims vindication for his hardball tactics, both on and off the beach. “We have finally capped the excess profits of Horizon,” he crowed at a news conference. That brag seems a little strange for a man who was running for the Republican presidential nomination as a conservative this time two years ago, but then again, the GOP has caught populist fever these days. Perhaps states shouldn’t create non-profits to compete in marketplaces with private firms in the first place, and the need to regain control over its operations seems like evidence for that argument.
The outgoing governor sounds a lot less populist about the trappings of his office, though:
Christie — in a dark suit and standing before the state flag — was unapologetic through his lengthy remarks about spending time in recent days at Island Beach State Park, a state beach that had been closed during the shutdown. …
“I don’t apologize for it,” Christie said. “I don’t back away from it. I think my poll numbers show that I don’t care about political optics. . . . Shame on those people who wanted to make this as if we were taking advantage of something. I just don’t agree with it, and I don’t believe it.” …
“If they had flown the plane over that beach and I was sitting next to a 25-year-old blonde in that beach chair next to me, that’s a story,” Christie said, leaning on the lectern and wagging his finger. “I wasn’t sitting next to a 25-year-old blonde. I was sitting next to my wife of 31 years, surrounded by children and some of their best friends. If that’s a scandal, I’m guilty of every day of my life.”
Well, let’s recap. Christie forced the budget showdown in large part to go after Horizon and gain more control over its operations, and ordered the parks and beaches closed to put pressure on the legislature. While doing that, he and his family used the state-owned beach connected to the gubernatorial residence. One does not need to deny that the residence is his to criticize the recreational use of it during the shutdown Christie engineered. New Jersey voters used as pawns in this political battle have no reason to apologize for their anger over it, nor does the media have to apologize for pointing it out.
At least Christie allowed residents to return to the public beaches for Independence Day. I wonder if Christie will feel the need to apologize for the overwhelming irony in that. Probably not.