New Jersey's Constitution, in its wisdom, dictates that someone in the state must always be ultimately responsible for its bureaucracy. Normally, that person is the Governor. But when the Governor leaves the state's borders, the Constitution devolves that responsibility upon another person. Until a few years ago, the first person in line was the State Senate President, which meant that anytime the Governor left, our state government became a parliamentary system*. Then we amended the Constitution and created the position of Lieutenant Governor to prevent that sort of problem. Now it takes the absence of both the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor for us to devolve back to the parliamentary system.
That is what we have right now. Chris Christie took his family to DisneyWorld for the holidays and Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno took hers to Mexico, so State Senate President Steven Sweeney, elected by fewer than thirty thousand people, is now simultaneously the leading officer of the State Senate and the state's chief Executive. Paul Mulshine sees this as evidence that Guadagno's political career is limited and sees plenty of mischief for Senator/Governor Sweeney to get into, if he so chooses.
But the problem is not Guadagno's. She was not elected Governor; Christie was. She is second-in-command, in military terms. That means that he does not clear his travel and vacation with her; she clears her travel and vacation with him. While authority can be delegated, responsibility cannot. And so it was Governor Christie's responsibility to ensure that the separated powers of the executive branch remained separated. Either he should have scheduled his family trip at another time, or he should have been a boss and told Guadagno that she could not travel at the same time as he was.
For someone who seems eager to exercise the power of the bully pulpit at public events; the reticence to exercise the legitimate powers of his office responsibly is puzzling, and alarming. It is a dereliction of duty and an abrogation of responsibility. Yes, the world will keep turning. But it isn't the Governor's duty to keep the world turning. It is his duty to ensure the administration of the state government and to run the executive branch. Especially in an emergency. Especially when there is almost a week's notice that the emergency is going to hit. It is inexcusable.
If the statewide problem is irresponsibility; then the local problem (here in Jersey City) is one of ineptitude. At this point, there are still streets unplowed. Officially, the city is blaming residents for abandoning their cars, causing streets to be impassible for snow plows. Jersey City officials find this unbelievable. And, I can attest to the fact that in the decade or so that I have lived here, I've never seen cars abandoned in a snowstorm.
Ok, I am usually a big fan of Chris Christie, but this is just ridiculous. I realize that this vacation was planned for quite a while, but he should have postponed the trip, until the emergency was over. The blizzard didn’t just pop out of nowhere. If he had been paying attention to the weather at all, he would have had ample warning.
Let’s not forget that the Lieutenant Governor is on vacation, too. That is just pure stupidity for them to plan their vacations at the same time, regardless of what is going on. Even if it is perfect weather and everything is running smoothly statewide, they shouldn’t go on vacation at the same time. There should always be an executive at the helm, just in case. It makes you wonder, if Christie’s office knew that the Lt. Gov. would be gone at the same time and did they approve it. If they knew it and approved or at least allowed it, it is just beyond incompetence.
Even some conservatives in New Jersey are expressing their displeasure over the Governor’s bumbling of this crisis:
Mr. Sweeney’s graciousness is overshadowed by the sheer incompetence of the Christie administration - incompetence bordering on stupidity. Yes, I know the odds of something unfortunate happening to BOTH the Governor and Lt. Governor are infinitesimal. That’s not the point - and if you can’t see the point you are either blind or a clueless Chris Christie cheerleader.
I could certainly understand if the Governor were already on vacation when a natural disaster hit the state - in the present case, however, there was ample warning days ago (anyone watching the Weather Channel could see the massive storm system crawling its way up the Eastern seaboard) and the Governor had plenty of time to reschedule his Disney World vacation so that he could be close to home in the event some fresh hell revealed itself. Instead, he skipped town a couple of hours before most flights out of Newark were canceled and the storm system descended upon the Garden State - leaving hoi polloi to fend for themselves midst the snowdrifts. Can someone on the Governor’s staff please tell us what the hell he was thinking?
Adding insult to injury, the Lt. Governor likewise skedaddled out of Dodge City, leaving the more curious among us with lots of questions: Is there no reliable communication between the offices of the Governor and Lt. Governor? Was Gov. Christie aware that his second in command would be absent from New Jersey at precisely the same time he was absent? If not, can we expect to see an otherwise useless staff member collecting unemployment checks soon? If so, why did he not importune her to take her vacation after his return?
Imagine if a hurricane was headed to New Orleans again and Obama decided to step out for a couple of weeks the day before landfall, how much hell would come down on him for being absent, during a time of crisis? Bush was chastised just for flying over New Orleans, after Katrina, and not landing to survey the rescue efforts and clean-up, but at least, he did that. Christie is still talking to Mickey Mouse and Goofy in Florida, when she should be back home and talking to people of New Jersey and coordinating an effort to guide his state through this blizzard.
On the other hand, Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) is doing a fantastic job of trying to take control of the effort in his city. He has been on Twitter all day sending out comfort and encouragement to those affected and asking for people to send him a private message through Twitter, if they are stranded somewhere, and he gets help out to them. In this case, the Governor should take a page out of Booker’s book and be on-hand and more hands-on, when dealing with this crisis.