Chris Christie as the latest empty suit. (Even if it’s X-tra large.)

A New Jersey one.

In my free time, I happened to hit this one from In it, Alan Steinberg is arguing that Chris Christie needs to follow the lessons of the 1993 Christie Whitman campaign.

A lot of New Jerseyans put the “new” in New Jersey, so I might have to explain. In 1989 a guy named Jim Florio won the governorship. He was a Democrat who went in on a landslide.

Nineteen ninety was a recession year, and New Jersey took its hit. Additionally, the state’s Supreme Court was about to order funding fairness between urban school districts and SUBurban schools—which we all know are better funded and just overall nicer.

Governor Florio took the bull by the horns and submitted a budget that had the necessary income tax increases (mostly on high earners), a sales tax increase, and a substantial REBATE of real estate taxes. He tried to do it all together in his first year.

The state’s budget year starts on July 1. So Florio had the misfortune of having his grand plan put forth the same time that the last federal social security tax hike (to 7.65%) went in effect. This meant that all of the sudden everyone’s paychecks in New Jersey shrunk a bit—even if it had nothing to do with state taxes.

There were other small issues with it. I think in one case toilet paper was sales taxed, when before it wasn’t. Since everyone buys toilet paper, it was visible that what used to be 59 cents suddenly became 63. So this was an issue—tissue issue.

New Jersey 101.5 had recently switched to talk radio format. And they hammered away at Governor Florio for four years.

A state redistricting that crammed minority voters into very small districts help to give the Republicans a veto-override majority in the 1991 elections. And Governor Florio was essentially a lame duck.

Plus, all the Democrats who lost hated him because they were out of positions.

So, out of Somerset County, along comes empty suit Christine Todd Whitman. And what I mean by empty suit is not that she doesn’t have a brain, but rather, she didn’t really have anything to offer to solve New Jersey’s problems.

As Alan Steinberg alludes to, in 1977, Raymond Bateman, also out of Somerset County, failed in his attempt to unseat Governor Byrne, because he put forth a non-solution to New Jersey’s problems. He was basically running as the anti-Byrne, and when he was asked “where’s the beef” so to speak, his grand plan was to replace the new state income tax (1976) with another tax!
(Some plan.)

What Christie Whitman did was show up and say that she wasn’t Florio. And that seemed to work fairly well, except towards the end of 1993, it wasn’t clear it could seal the deal. So Ed Rollins or one of her other Republican crony advisors suggested she offer a 30% rate cut on state income tax. Where would the money to fund it come from? Well, worry about that after you get in honey, I think was the response.

By the way, before Christie Whitman showed up to say she wasn’t Jim Florio, she had run for Senate against Bill Bradley in that Year of Discontent (1990). And there, I think her only theme was, hey, Bil Bradley what do think of what’s going on in Trenton? Except Senator Bradley was in Washington with nothing to do in Trenton.

So New Jersey Republicans, this is what you get. Always somebody looking to make issues and not solve things. Really, not really having any solutions. And they get in there and they just try to rabble rouse between primary day and election day.

Well, Christie Whitman won with maybe 49% of the vote in a three-way, with Jim Florio at 48%. (I forget who siphoned off the other 3%.)

And when she got in office in 1994, she went to put into force her 30% rate cut (rate cut means that the rich get a really big deduction, and everyone in the middle class gets maybe $5 a week). She did it! But then, there was a budget gap—which has had to be filled every July to this very day, I believe.

New Jersey had no money for the big Christie Whitman tax cut. And the Republican Legislature would not cut back on spending—that’s so important! So Governor Whitman began borrowing and using every other kind of scheme to get money to balance the budget.

I think she became the Queen of Unconstitutional Borrowing when she did a state bond offering for billions to fund the state pension system. Then I think she spent the money the state would have been putting into the pension for other things (like the tax cut, basically).

Sure enough, the interest payments on the state debt caught up with Trenton sometime in the 2000’s. And now it’s a real big problem. Thanks to the first “Christie”.

I’ll give it to anyone that the Democrats in New Jersey know how to spend money. BUT, BUT the spending has considerable support within the state. This is why it’s gone on and on for decades. Not just a year or two.

Governor Corzine, like Byrne before him, has tried to put some balance into what has been going on. Some brakes.

In four years, I think he’s succeeded in stopping the Christie Whitman chaos.

Then along comes Chris Christie “Fatman”. Like Whitman, like Bateman, Fatman is a product of one of the far suburban counties like Somerset or Morris. And again, an empty suit in the sense that they don’t really have an answer to Trenton’s problems. And not even any great insight into how the state could be managed any better than it is.

Christie Fatman shows up, and like Christie Whitman 16 years before, basically says “I’m not the incumbent”. And this is supposed to be a campaign. (I guess like what Alan Steinberg was saying about New York’s Dewey in 1948–well before my time, but I know the general story.)

Both Christie Fatman and Christie Whitman have been brought to the people of New Jersey through Dale Florio, longtime head of the Somerset Republican Party.

And you see the common theme. A sitting Democratic governor is demonized. The state has problems, usually involving also a bad recession, and Dale Florio’s behind-the-scenes power people “cultivate” some candidate that they can put before the irate New Jersey voter.

I don’t know if Dale is hip to the fact that people catch on to this sort of thing after a while. I don’t know if Dale is hip at all. But clearly, the people in the Corzine organization aren’t stupid. And so this is why Christie Fatman is getting hit so hard in (whatever is left of) the newspapers, and on radio and TV.

Now the news is out that Christie Fatman was not ethically discharging the office of U.S. attorney. He was picking which scandals to investigate based off what party the people were (so this means he went light on Republican scandals in Somerset County like the Park Commission and the Sheriff with the thousands in dry cleaning bills.)

Karl Rove was actively engaging him in a future run for Governor, and Dale Florio and some of the other insiders were in there crafting things. This is against the Hatch Act (no politicking while on the government’s payroll), and arguably it’s against U.S. attorney ethics. You are supposed to give an impartial enforcement of the law. Not just try to enforce laws against people in the other party. I think Christie Fatman came up short on that. The ethics.

The talk back home is that Jon Corzine is pounding Fatman very hard on the “where’s the beef?”. We are finding out that Christie is a creation of the backwoods Republicans of the State. And again, with no practical, realistic solutions to offer except they aren’t the incumbent. Bateman. Whitman. Fatman.

The pattern of the one-trick pony goes on and on.