"We know that this was not a family vacation to Disney World, but a political fundraiser designed to further the governor's national political aspirations," NJ state Sen. Loretta Weinberg said on Friday, in announcing her plan to introduce new legislation today requiring the Governor to alert state legislators when he's traveling out of state.
As mentioned on Friday, more new developments continue to follow in the wake of our Mother Jones exclusive on NJ Gov. Chris Christie's secret appearance (at least until we revealed it) and keynote speech at the billionaire Koch brother's ultra-confidential (at least until we ruined that too) political strategy and fund raising soiree near Vail, Colorado late last June.
"No man is an island, and the governor needs to recognize that he has a responsibility to the people of New Jersey to at least assure for the orderly transfer of power if he does decide to leave the state in search of right-wing campaign donations," Weinberg told New Jersey Newsroom's Tom Hester, Sr. "If an emergency situation had occurred while he was away, the members of the Legislature would have had to scramble to figure out who they're supposed to be working with in the front office."
As Hester reports, "Christie traveled with a state police escort to Vail to give the keynote address at a political fundraiser hosted by David and Charles Koch, oil billionaires and conservative Republican powerbrokers. It was at least the fourth time Christie left the state since taking office without notifying legislators, the public or the media."
The first the local media, or Christie's constituents, had heard about his pilgrimage to the Koch shindig in Vail, was more than two months afterward in our report, based on audio we'd obtained, as recorded by an insider source at the event.
Incredibly, when he was called on the carpet for the secret political trip halfway across the country on a friendly NJ Meet the Governor radio show last week, Christie attempted to downplay it all as little more than a family vacation, even likening it to running out to the deli to pick up a quick sandwich.
"Like this past Saturday," he told 101.5FM's host Eric Scott, "I left the state to go to a University of Delaware football game with my wife and my four children. Do you think the people of the state of New Jersey are dying to know that?"
"I also, ya know, went to the deli on Saturday, do I need to tell people that too?," Christie continued, insisting his hob-nob with the Kochs and several hundred of their closest corporate titan friends was little more than "personal time"...
New Jersey columnist Charles Stile disagrees, and responded to the absurd comparisons:
"Christie's explanations for not disclosing the Koch trips zigged all over the map without a GPS," wrote Stiles.
Weinberg says that "governors and other elected officials should realize that public service comes at the cost of some measure of privacy - he's got to be governor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not just when it suits him."
She added, "a simple notification that he will be out-of-state isn't too much of a breach in his privacy, considering that his leaving affects every aspect of state government and necessitates a successor for the time that he's gone. ... He shouldn't be able to hand over the keys to the kingdom [to his Lt. Governor, actually] without at the very least giving the Legislature a heads up."
For his part, a Christie spokesman described Weinberg's legislation as nothing more than "crass politics."
If Weinberg's politics are "crass," we wonder how his spokesman might describes Christie's description of the Democratic majority in the state legislature when he thought he was secretly speaking to the Kochs' corporate cronies. "You know, I cannot believe how stupid these people are," said Christie to much laughter and applause among the hard-right cognoscenti assembled in Vail.
Christie's new positions on "privacy" are in stark contrast to his campaign for office, when he called for a more open and transparent New Jersey government, was highly critical of then Gov. John Corzine's out of state trips, and when he reportedly announced at his first cabinet meeting: "Folks in this state have a right to know what we're doing in their name every day."
Stiles, however, believes Christie's lack of interest in disclosure is for more than a simple need for a "zone of privacy", as Christie described it, around his personal life:
When I ran this theory by Christie on Wednesday, he replied, "No, no, next question."
Failing to disclose fosters suspicion of undue influence.
Christie can certainly meet with anybody. But you would think that Christie, whose crusade as a federal prosecutor against public corruption catapulted him to power, might take extra care in disclosing his private, out-of-state politicking.
While Weinberg's bill requiring notification to legislative leaders when the Governor leaves the state might easily pass in the Democrat-dominated state legislature, it would still have to be signed into law by Christie who enjoys the right of line-item veto in his executive role of what he described at the Koch gathering as the "the most powerful constitutional governorship in America."
“It just seems rational that when someone else is taking over as governor that people should be informed,” Weinberg told The Associated Press over the weekend. NJ's Democratic State Party chair, John Wisniewski similarly called on Christie to "stop hiding his actions from the public," and over the summer, the ACLU had threatened to sue the Governor after he'd declined to release records confirming another private meeting he'd had with Roger Ailes of Fox "News" last year.
"This may seem like legislating common sense," says Weinberg about her bill, which she describes as a sensible compromise between security concerns that come with announcing every detail of such trips, the Governor's right to privacy, and the public's right to know about the conduct of elected officials.
"But after it was revealed that common sense wasn't used," on numerous occasions by the Governor, most notably in his recent covert political trip to Colorado, "this is what we're left with."
For much more on other recent fall-out following on our revelation of Christie's secret Colorado Koch speech, please see our Friday story here...