Senator Thompson Flips Out After Being Called Out
The Senator Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks
A quick post on some fireworks that occurred after today’s Senate Environment Committee hearing on proposed legislation involving promotion of off shore wind and environmental justice.
The wind bill was released and the environmental justice bill was held for additional work.
There was some very good testimony you can listen to here (hit “listen to prior proceedings” and scroll to Senate Environment Committee).
But both bills certainly would be vetoed by Governor Christie and have virtually no chance of enactment.
So, instead of writing about the policy issues with the bills (which I support and have written about before, see this on wind and this on environmental justice), I’ll just share a sharp exchange I had with Senator Thompson (R-Ocean) after the hearing.
During the hearing, Thompson took strong exception to Senator Sweeney’s criticism of Gov. Christie and raised strong objections to injecting politics in decision-making.
So after the hearing, in a very soft spoken and respectful way, I asked Senator Thompson how he could reconcile his remarks opposing local political intervention at DEP with his actions in meeting with DEP Commissioner Martin and pressuring DEP to issue a NJPDES permit for a new sewage treatment plant on Crosswicks Creek in Plumsted.
He immediately got defensive and flustered and asked me exactly what was I talking about.
I replied that I had it in writing that he (and likely Assemblyman Dancer) had met with DEP Commissioner Martin and pressured DEP to issue a NJPDES permit for a new treatment plant, and to reverse longstanding DEP policies and relax regulations to do so.
Seemingly aware of the Assemblyman Fiocchi matter, he claimed that he was doing that on behalf of his constituents.
I replied that Lennar - who just signed a developers agreement with Plumsted - and other developers and United Water would benefit economically as well (PMUA is actively considering privatizing both water and sewer infrastructure) and that he had injected politics into DEP decisions, not the merits as he had just rode his high horse on during the Committee hearing.
After I said that, Thompson went wild. He physically got in my face, less than 4 inches from me, as he repeatedly poked his finger in my chest. [I had to ask him to stop touching me.]
He called me an asshole and told me to “stick it up my ass” and as he repeated that phrase, he gave me the middle finger. I’ve not seen anything like it since grade school. Total meltdown.
[Update: A reader just called and said that this kind of behavior, if it were conducted by a State employee in the workplace, would be grounds for discipline, including firing. The reader said this was the next phase of “sit down and shut up”]
So let me provide the context for my question and Thompson’s meltdown, so readers understand exactly what I called Thompson out for.
In a way, my question to Thompson is similar to the core issue in the Assemblyman Fiocchi ethics matter.
- Off shore wind: Sweeney Calls Out Christie & the Koch Brothers, Thompson cries foul
Senate President Sweeney was the prime sponsor off shore wind energy promotion legislation passed in 2010. Sweeney began the discussion of another pro-wind bill to implement that law, S-2711 after 4 years of delay by the Christie Administration. Sweeney had some strong words (verbatim remarks by Sweeney):
In March 2011, BPU was supposed to publish the wind regulations. The fact that the BPU has not published regulations is a clear statement from the Administration that they’re opposed to wind energy, at the cost of the economy of the state of NJ.
We would have captured 1,000 manufacturing jobs in this industry. We were so far ahead of other states, up and down the east coast.
There was a conference in Atlantic City where the Lt. Governor spoke glowingly of how wonderful this is.
Now something happened.
I think the Governor’s ambitions changed and I know that the Koch Brothers don’t like clean energy.
Wham! Sweeney rightly nailed Christie for caving to Koch brothers to kill wind and harm NJ’s economy and jobs.
After the testimony, during the Committee’s deliberation, Senator Thompson (R-Ocean) opened with a salvo taking strong exception to Sweeney’s political criticism of the Governor (verbatim remarks by Senator Thompson):
I find it regrettable that this discussion began on a political basis. The first statement made was: “This hasn’t moved – the wind industry stuff – because the Koch Brothers aren’t into renewable energy, and the Governor may have some other direction he wants to go in.”
To me, that has nothing to do with what we’re considering here …. I think it should be weighed on its own merits.
So, Senator Thompson wants regulatory decisions based on the merits, not politics.
Aside from being absurd given how Gov. Christie’s political ambitions have blocked off shore wind, remember that.
Ironically, that is exactly the issue I just raised in our ethics complaint against Assembylan Fiocchi – undue and inappropriate political intervention
The bill was approved by the Committee by a 4-1 vote and released.
- Environmental Justice: Thompson says he wants DEP permits based on science, not politics
The environmental justice bill (S1150) spurred a lot of testimony and was discussed at length by the Committee (here is my summary and analysis of that bill prior to the hearing today).
One of the key issues framed by Chairman Smith, was the role of local government. The bill would give local governments an effective veto over DEP permits in designated communities.
Senator Thompson again objected and took strong exception to the role of local government in DEP permit decisions – on similar grounds to his remarks about wind – follow this closely (verbatim remarks by Senator Thompson):
To me, the killer on this bill is when it says the bill prohibits the DEP from approving any permit without the local municipal governing body adopting an ordinance approving the permit application.
In essence, this takes away from DEP the ability to issue its own permit.
They can not grant a permit, not matter what their studies say.
So, now its going to be left to the local governing bodies.
Well, not only as a legislator but as County Chairman, I have a lot of contact with a lot of local governing bodies.
And I know that their decisions are not always based upon the facts – there are other factors that come into consideration by some members at times.
And the decisions may not be based on whether its appropriate to have this facility here, and so on, but may come for other reasons unrelated to any studies.
I’d be reluctant to take that final decision away from DEP.
I wonder what the “other factors” are Thompson was referring to?
So, let’s repeat that:
Senator Thompson says he knows that local decisions are “not always based on facts” and that he wants DEP permits to be based on “studies” not local politics.
During the wind debate, Thompson objected to injecting politics into BPU regulatory decisions.
But here is what Senator Thompson does, which is the exact opposite of what he says – here he is doing exactly what he just complained about: (from April 30, 2014 – PMUA minutes):
[Assemblyman] Mr. Dancer said Senator Thompson had recently met with Commissioner Martin at NJDEP. He said Senator Thompson had called him after the meeting and said the Commissioner was aware of Plumsted’s situation and would personally look into it and, if possible, try to expedite things.
Mr. Dancer also noted he received a call from Rick Brown of the NJDEP stating the Commissioner wanted to make sure this issue gets the attention it needs in a timely fashion.
[Assemblyman] Mr. Dancer questioned that if the DEP gives approval to the socio economic analysis, what is the next in issuing a permit for surface water discharge.
In other words, Thompson opposed exactly what he and Assemblyman Dancer – former Mayor of Plumsted – did with respect to meeting with DEP Commissioner Martin and pressuring DEP to issue a NJPDES permit with effluent limits that violate DEP’s own policies and standards.
And that is literally the definition of hypocrisy.
And when I called Thomson out on that, he flipped out – using profane language and gestures.