TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Democrats are talking about jobs. The governor is talking about ethics. All politicians are thinking about elections.
“If they are not talking about the issues that are really important to voters, namely property taxes, there must be an election coming up,” said Monmouth University political science professor Patrick Murray.
All 120 seats in the Legislature are up for election Nov. 8, but there are no marquee races. The hopes for what promised to be the most interesting race, featuring nine-time Olympic gold medalist track star Carl Lewis, were dashed when a federal appeals court kicked him off a state Senate ballot days ago over a residency requirement and he said he would not appeal.
Pundits expect few seats to change parties .
Still, it appears campaign season is in full swing in New Jersey as GOP Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic lawmakers have started showing their teeth; while individual legislators have taken turns running at Christie, the first-term Republican has become not only the face of the GOP party, but its singular voice.
Both sides started off the week by dusting off old issues. Christie spent the week pushing a year-old bills package to strengthen the state’s ethics laws while Democrats have tried to move more than a dozen bills to spur job growth, even though a handful have already been vetoed by Christie.
Then each side accused the other of politicking instead of doing the people’s work. Then it got more personal.
After Democrats pounced on Christie for failing to disclose a trip to Colorado to attend a retreat sponsored by billionaire oil barons, Christie gave them a two-fisted answer by holding town hall events in the hometowns of two of his most vocal Democratic critics in the Legislature — Assemblymen Joe Cryan and John Wisniewski, the former and current chairmen of the Democratic state party, respectively.
In Union Township on Monday, Christie took aim at Cryan for collecting two public paychecks for his job as an assemblyman and as a county undersheriff.
“In this county, we have one of the busiest men in New Jersey state government,” Christie said sarcastically. “Man, I don’t know where he finds the time. But he must. Because there’s no way he’s doing any one of those jobs halfway.”
On Wednesday, he made fun of Wisniewski for sending out press releases that Christie said focused more on the spelling of his name and a stream of “whining, crying, insignificant press releases about some dopey issue.”
“They don’t want to deal with the real issues,” Christie told a crowd packed into a Sayreville senior center. “They just want to distract you.”
Both men called Christie a bully and said he was the one offering distraction will town hall events.
“He’s a bully who resorts to personal attacks to defend his failed policies,” Cryan said. “We have different values. I fight for working-class values. He fights for millionaires.”
Christie also took swings at Democratic Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Paul Sarlo at the events.
Weinberg is sponsoring a bill to require Christie to tell Legislative leaders anytime he hands power over to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, something the governor says he already does.
Christie said he already does that and said that if “she had asked those questions, she wouldn’t have put in this idiotic legislation.”
Weinberg responded by saying Christie has a “problem with women legislators.”
Christie’s problems with Democrats who control the Legislature may not be changing anytime soon given a new district map that favors incumbents. Christie has said he’s still hopeful that a few seats can be picked up, and if not, he seems to be enjoying the fight.
“He’s a Republican governor in a Democratic lion’s den. But his temperament is suited for the confrontation,” said Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Peter Woolley. “He has to set the tone for the rest of his term. He can’t stop pushing a reform agenda or the lions will eat him.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)