The internet awoke this morning—or settled in last night, depending on when the story reached you—to a series of unflattering pictures of New Jersey’s reigning governor chilling on a beach with his family. This in and of itself wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy, but the beach in question is closed to the public due to a governmental shutdown thanks to New Jersey’s failure to meet their July 1 budget deadline—a shutdown Christie essentially forced. So let’s dig in—what’s going on here?
In a surprising departure from most Republicans, Chris Christie is deeply committed to fighting against opioid addiction. As deaths from overdose become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, the unlikely Chris Christie is a leading figure in combating the crisis. During his brief and unfruitful bid to become president, Christie told a deeply personal anecdote about a friend who lost his life to addiction.
As some states and cities consider extreme options like simply letting repeat opioid offenders die from overdose as a cost-saving measure, Christie has taken a much more empathetic approach to the crisis. Christie has signed legislation allowing pharmacists to sell Narcan without a prescription. He also signed a “good Samaritan” bill protecting people who call 911 for help during an overdose from prosecution. In short, he’s committed to using his public position to solving the crisis.
As noble as some of his intentions may be, Chris Christie is not a popular man. Once considered the torch bearer for overbearing, bully politics, his crown was ultimately usurped by our current president. Since then, scandal and waning public support have eroded whatever effectiveness Christie and his high-handed style might have commanded in the past. His approval rating is currently cruising at a smooth 15 percent according to Politico. He lacks the political capital to get his way, but he also lacks the common sense or decency to compromise. As one might expect, this is leading to problems.
In his efforts to combat opioids’ rapidly expanding influence, Christie attempted to use the impending budget to include a provision forcing Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield—state’s largest health insurer—to hand over some $300 million of its reserve on public health initiatives—such as those assisting in the opioid crisis. If that section isn’t included, Christie has vowed to veto any potential budget offered up by the New Jersey State Legislature. The Democrat-held Assembly has refused to pass the Horizon bill. The leader of the State Assembly, Vincent Prieto, a Democrat, suggested the Horizon bill be considered after they pass a budget, but Christie has, of course, refused and offered no compromise.
Well, the deadline to reach a consensus was July 1, and—per New Jersey’s Constitution—a failure to pass a budget requires the government to cease spending on everything except public safety and emergency services. This comes at a particularly poor time given the holiday weekend. State parks and beaches are currently closed, and all public events held on public property will have to be canceled. Naturally, there is a provision that allows the state’s casinos and racetracks to stay open, so happy families still have the option of gambling away their lifesavings if they can’t make it to the shore.
Despite police turning away potential beach-goers all weekend, The Star-Ledger published photographs of the embattled governor chilling on the otherwise-empty beach with his family. They were staying in a state-provided beach house and presumably enjoying the peace and quiet of the vacant beach. Many were outraged at the governor’s brazen attitude, and took to social media to condemn Christie for taking advantage of a tumultuous time and refusing to compromise on his exorbitant demands.
Christie didn’t seem all that upset by the outcry, and he defended his decision to visit the closed beach on Monday to Fox 5 with the explanation that:
“The governor has two residences in New Jersey. One down at the beach, at Island Beach State Park, and one at Drumthwacket, which also is in Princeton. The governor is allowed to go to his residences and I’m at my residences. I’ll tell you this, I said last Monday, a week ago today, that no matter what happens, we were coming here as a family this weekend.”
He then went on to mock The Star-Ledger:
“What a great bit of journalism by The Star-Ledger. They actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with, his wife and children and their friends. I am sure they will get a Pulitzer for this one. They caught me doing what I said I was going to do with the people I said I was going to be with.”
When asked why it was okay for him to visit the park when nobody else could, Christie explained during a news conference that, “It’s because the governor has a residence at Island Beach. Others don’t. It’s just the way it goes. Run for governor and then you can have the residence.” By his assertion, as soon as the legislature signs his provision, he’ll allow the budget to pass and the beach will be open for everybody else.
Christie’s run as governor is expected to end in six months, and he appears to be doing everything he can to enrage his constituents to the bitter end.