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Editorial: Christie’s visit reminder for transparency

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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GOP Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey will visit Iowa to speak at a fundraiser on Thursday on behalf of Republican incumbent Gov. Terry Branstad, and his trip has drawn criticism. But it’s not from the angle you might expect. Interestingly enough, the Judicial Crisis Network — a conservative group “dedicated to strengthening liberty and justice in America,” according to its website — is spending more than $75,000 on online advertising criticizing Christie for nominating Chief Justice Stuart Rabner for tenure on New Jersey’s state Supreme Court thanks to a deal made with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, according to a report by USA Today.

In terms of promoting cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, Christie has been, relatively speaking, a beacon of hope during his time as governor of New Jersey, a conservative with mildly liberal stances on a few issues and, seemingly, a willingness to fairly discuss matters with members of both parties.

While the Editorial Board doesn’t necessarily agree with the Judicial Crisis Network’s reasoning on why Christie shouldn’t visit Iowa, we do agree that — considering very recent incidents — such a visit is questionable.

Fairly enough, the New Jersey governor’s visit will probably serve not only as a promotion of Branstad, but also as a reminder to Iowans that — as the Iowa caucuses slowly approach — he exists. Christie has voiced his interest in potentially running for president in the 2016 election, so a stop in Iowa would be a logical place to start.

However, according to a CBS New York report, his consideration became public during a conference a little under a year after the Fort Lee, New Jersey, lane-closure scandal, which people may remember as the fiasco in which the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed two of three lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge after reportedly receiving instruction from one or more of Christie’s aides.

The reasoning for the closure isn’t completely objective, though there are theories. According to a CNN report, one of the governor’s top aides at the time — Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly — sent an email to Port Authority member David Wildstein, whom Christie appointed to the position, including the line: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The closures created a massive gridlock for commuters and sparked general outrage. Many have speculated that the tollway closings were some mode of retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, though they are, again, speculations, and Christie fired Kelly soon after.

Ten months may seem like a huge span of time for positive public relations to work its magic, but in reality, the scandal isn’t that bygone. Not long after, news broke of a number of secret settlements — totaling more than $500,000 and funded by taxpayers — that occurred during Branstad’s time in office.

More details are surfacing about the case, and as the Des Moines Register has reported, a few government employees have testified on the matter. In the same fashion as Christie, Branstad fired someone: Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll. It seems the matter has been lost in campaign excitement.

Although the details about who-knew-what are, again, slightly hazy and speculative, the fact of the matter is that both governors have, recently during their time in office, been part of some sort of secretive leadership blunder. While both incidents were caused by employees serving under each governor and not the governors themselves, they did occur, and both Christie and Branstad have had to fire someone as a way of correcting the problem in the public eye.

As tomorrow draws closer, as does election season, these are important issues worth remembering. While Christie is more or less completely welcome in Iowa, his presence should serve as a reminder to Iowans to take caution and think critically about politicians visiting the state. There’s more to electing someone than a familiar name, especially if the familiarity is somehow tied to infamy. A big error in leadership — an error that leads to problems for the population under said leadership — shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s not just water under the bridge, so to speak.


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