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Christie Transition Team – MIA on the Environment

[Update: 11/15/09 – please disregard any inference of bias or conflict of interest on the part of John Weingart, he just announced he is stepping down as Highlands Council Chair]

We have been following developments in the Christie administration, in hopes of promoting environmental interests and holding the administration accountable to its campaign pledges and environmental law (see this and this and this).

Today, we are again troubled by another disturbing signal. According to the Star Ledger (“Christie’s Chosen Few“), the Transition Team excludes environmental or public interest representatives.

Worse, although he excluded environmental and public interest group representatives, Christie appointed Jon Hanson, chairman and founder of the Hampshire Real Estate Companies, a major real estate mogul from Morris County (Highlands country); Alfred Koeppe, the former head of major polluter Public Service Electric & Gas; and Debra DiLorenzo, the longtime head of the notoriously anti-environmental Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey .

The size and composition of Christie’s Transition Team contrasts sharply with prior Governor’s. Yet that contrast and what it means for governing and policy are not brought out particularly well in the Star Ledger coverage. So let me critique that article as a means to bring out the importance of having environmental and public interests represented on the transition team. Or the reader may examine and compare Corzine’s Transition Team Reports. (here’s press release) – Here is Environment Final Report

The Star Ledger article relied on John Weingart as a source – ostensibly an independent academic political scientist (without disclosing the fact that Weingart is Chair of the NJ Highlands Council, which is legally in (but not of) the state Department of Environmental Protection. This is an important omission, as Weingart soon will be part of the Christie Administration).

Weingart praised Christie for more effectively building relationships with Trenton by appointing insiders to the team. But Weingart failed to note the irony in the fact that Trenton is the place Christie attacked during his campaign as corrupt, and pledged to “turn upside down”.

That contextual omission is bad enough, but why does Weingart fail to note that many policy areas and interest groups are excluded and NOT represented on the Christie team? Christie failed to include critically important NJ issues and interests, like urban, land use, transportation, and environmental policy experts and community representatives.

One would think a political scientist would understand the importance of a Team comprised of a diversity of interests and expertises, versus a team representing primarily powerful corporate economic interests.

One would think a political scientist would understand inside top down elite corporate politics, versus broad democratic representation of the public interest.

But, no, Weingart cynically dismisses all that as empty “symbolism”. To do so, he goes out of his way to dismiss the 88 member diverse McGreevey Transition Team as not substantive, but symbolic. That is a slur on the dedicated citizens who served on those prior transition teams, many of whom were experts in their respective fields who would be surprised to be dismissed as “symbols”.

(ps – full disclosure: I was one of the “symbolic” “McGreevey 88″ and testified to and worked with the Corzine Transition team’s environmental committee.  It is shocking that Weingart apparently fails to understand this history, because the McGreevey Transition process built the team, strategy, and the policy agenda that produced the Highlands Act. Weingart serves as Chair of the Highlands Council created by that Act. )

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