Unqualified & Evasive Christie Nominees Humiliated in Transparent Political Payback Scheme
Scheme Was Too Corrupt Even For Trenton Standards
Egg on face of Gov. and Senator Van Drew – Perhaps Sweeney Too
This farce just further shows that the Gov.’s Office lashes out at opponents with no strategy and without thinking through the consequences. It also shows that Christie is still suffering from the Bridgegate scandal.
[Updates below - news coverage]
Something very unusual happened today in Trenton, amounting to an epic political embarrassment for whomever signed off on the scheme, a stunt that unravelled before the very eyes of members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow me.
At the conclusion of extensive grilling of Gov. Christie’s two replacement nominees for the Pinelands Commission, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Scutari abruptly adjourned the hearing, taking no testimony from dozens of opponents who had signed up to testify and avoiding a likely deeply embarrassing vote to kill the nominees.
As I wrote last May:
This is a test of the integrity of Senate Democrats, particularly those on the Judiciary Committee who must vote to confirm the Gov.’s nominations.
Dozens of opponents, all defenders of the Pinelands, were unified in opposition – the entire NJ environmental community, plus local activists, fracktivists, climate change activist, and good government types – all rapidly organized to oppose the nominees. They held a rally on the Statehouse steps before the hearing and blitzed Committee members with emails.
Both nominees made extremely short perfunctory opening statements that did not even attempt to establish any reason for the Committee to approve their nominations.
It was as if they thought the deal was in and all they had to do was show up and not vomit or fart out loud.
The collapse began very soon into the hearing – in the non-response to the Chairman’s opening softball question that seemed designed to elicit a response that could allow the nominee to plausibly rebut the opponents (paraphrase): “How do you respond to the critics who say you’re just a puppet of Christie installed to approve the pipeline?”
The Chairman seemed to beg for a “just give me one – just one – reason to vote for you” – but quickly it became obvious, by their own testimony, that both nominees clearly were unqualified and totally unprepared for critical questions from the Committee.
[Update: the immediate incredulity and scorn was bipartisan. Republican Kip Bateman [R-Somerset] was uncharacteristically blunt, critical, and harsh – right out of the box, as the first questioner, he set the tone. Bateman asked the nominee’s opinion on the pipeline. The nominee dodged, said he had no opinion, and knew nothing about the issue:
Sir, to come here and not have an opinion on that, I find that very disturbing that you have no opinion on the issue. And I’ve got to be honest with you, without a straight answer, I could not support your nomination.
Both had no witnesses in support and dozens of witnesses signed up to testify in opposition, a fact noted by the Chairman at the outset. The only defender on the Committee was Senator Cardinale – Gov. Christie’s supporters Senators O’Toole and Kyrillos demurred.
Frankly, I have never seen anything even remotely this incompetently managed.
Both had never attended a Pinelands Commission meeting or had any other experience with the Pinelands.
Both said they intentionally did not make any inquiry about Pinelands issues – both pleaded no knowledge of the pipeline.
[Update with Orwell, 1984:
“Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.”
Both had no credibility in response to detailed questions about the origin of the nominations and interactions with Gov. Christie's Office.
Both confirmed nomination timelines (i.e. they were asked to serve by Gov.'s Office in "January or February", which follows the Commissioner Jan 10 vote) that were consistent with claims that Gov. Christie nominated them to replace two Commissioners who voted against his wishes to oppose the South Jersey Gas pipeline.
Senators Weinberg and Gill were particularly effective in their lines of questioning. At one point, Weinberg ridiculed a nominee: "Do they have newspapers where you live?" - and then even forced him to name the papers!
Senator Smith asked a nominee if, as a Mayor, he supported new ratables. The Mayor said NO. Incredulous, Smith replied "You are the only Mayor I've ever met that opposed new ratables".
The whole thing was an epic farce.
By the end of the hearing, I actually felt embarrassed for both men. Listen for yourself here.
I must admit that I assumed that the deal was in on these nominations. I'm pleased to eat crow on that.
Typically, a decision by the Judiciary Chairman to post a Gov.'s candidate for full Senate Judiciary Committee consideration (after interview) for a high profile post like the Pinelands Commission is highly significant and only done carefully and with the express approval of Senate leadership (i.e. Sweeney).
Given the pipeline controversy, the nominees would be expected to receive heightened scrutiny.
Senate leadership does not green light Gubernatorial candidates for Committee consideration without having done personal candidate vetting and a political calculus that the candidate is OK.
Once a candidate's name is posted for hearing by the Judiciary Committee, it is highly unusual that the candidate is rejected - that would make the Chairman look very stupid as well as leadership and the members of the Committee that conducted the interview.
But it seemed like today we entered a twilight zone - where the regular rules and typical protocols were suspended.
Democrats on the Committee seemed to smell blood in the water at the outset.
They were well prepared and grilled the candidates with questions that echoed the hearings on Bridgegate.
The nominees were like lambs before the slaughter.
As the hearing progressed, it became more and more obvious that the nominees lacked the votes for approval by the Committee.
So, instead of a humiliating rejection, my sense is the chairman Scutari simply pulled the plug.
- who persuaded Chairman Scutari to put these clowns up?
- why did Scutari post the nominees for consideration - as a favor to Van Drew or did Sweeney twist his arm?
- by abruptly adjourning before testimony or vote, who was Scutari seeking to avoid embarrassing: the hapless nominees? Senator Van Drew? Senate President Sweeney? Members of his Committee?
- I'm fairly certain, but who will confirm that these nominees are dead?
The supreme irony is that this was a needless embarrassment. An un-forced error.
There already are sufficient pro-pipeline votes on the Commission right now, as a result of the County replacements.
Gov. Christie didn't even have to do this to get his damn pipeline. He just wanted to retaliate against Commissioners who defied him and voted their conscience.
The smoking gun is that, according to the testimony of his own nominees, they are approached by the Gov.'s Office in February 2014. Not only is that just after the Commissioner's Jan. 10, 2014 vote to kill the pipeline, but is was 4 MONTHS BEFORE the Commissioner's who voted NO terms expired.
Those terms expired in June 2014 - most Commissioners serve months or years on expired terms - it is unheard of to replace someone BEFORE the terms is expired.
Just further shows that the Gov.'s Office lashes out at opponents with no strategy and without thinking through the consequences.
[Cautionary end note: In similar circumstances, I was dead wrong about Christie's replacements to the D&R Canal Commission who were excellent and rejected DEP's Bulls Island clearcut plan.]
[Update – Here is the Burlington County Times story:
Press of Atlantic City:
Asbury Park Press – I can’t believe APP ran a crappy AP story when they just let Kirk Moore go!
The AP story is by far the worst, and gives the Gov.’s Office a platform to flat out lie about the lack of qualifications of both candidates. Disgusting!