Amid the recent devastation and loss in the wake of Sandy, there are some bright spots and political opportunities as we approach the holiday season.
I have used this column in the past to offer some tough but hopefully constructive criticism of the policies of the Christie administration, and to urge the governor to take (or refrain from taking) certain actions.
Nevertheless, I am compelled to agree with what many commentators and members of the public have already noted: our governor did a great job of putting politics aside to collaborate with the White House and address New Jersey’s urgent needs in the midst of crisis.
While some of the bitterly partisan folks in his own party urged Christie to distance himself from the president, our governor had the courage to do what needed to be done, and to show folks that a true leader can reach across the aisle to make government work in the best interests of its citizens. And he also had the guts to compliment and thank the president for his cooperation, even though he was warned that there would be a political price to pay for such candor.
Chris Christie was both willing and able to do what virtually no other prominent Republican has done, stand up to some of the loonier fringe elements in his party and show everyone that there is a way to break the partisan stranglehold that is suffocating our politics.
The results must have been gratifying. New Jerseyans of all political persuasions helped boost the governor’s ratings by substantial margins in recent opinion polls.
So in the spirit of the season, I would like to give credit where credit is due, and also to offer the governor some suggestions for gifts he can give to all New Jerseyans this holiday season (now that he is on a roll):
First and foremost, the gift of leadership on climate change.
If Sandy showed us anything, it is that New Jersey remains vulnerable to the extreme weather associated with our changing climate. We need a leader who will show us the way past the ludicrous denial phase and have the courage and tenacity to help us minimize this serious threat. We need someone who will rebuild smarter and safer where it makes sense, but who will also lead us in a strategic retreat from the least defensible places, so we can work with Mother Nature, rather than against her, to avoid future loss of life and property.
Second, the political courage to say and demonstrate that government actually does have an important role in bettering the lives of its citizens.
In addition to ensuring that government is run honestly and efficiently, we also need someone who will sometimes bite the bullet and provide the resources and the tools necessary to do the job. (You might also want to let folks know that Sustainable Jersey really does makes sense for both liberals and conservatives, and help dismiss the idea that it is a UN plot to control our lives.)
Third, the wisdom to know when to make the necessary investments — even in tough economic times — that will ensure our economic future.
For example, you might want to reconsider an increase in the gas tax to help fund desperately needed improvements to our mass transit systems, roads, and bridges — all of which took such a beating in the recent storm. While you are at it, you could embrace a stable source of funding to preserve the open spaces and farmland that safeguard our drinking water and enhance the quality of our lives in so many ways.
Fourth, the statesmanship to bring folks together on tough issues like regional planning and shared governmental services.
A good place to start would be to step up and show folks that regional collaboration is the only way to protect the Highlands, and that we can indeed preserve the water, open spaces, and farmland of this critical area while also addressing landowner equity.
Fifth, the patience to stay the course on developing clean and green energy for the Garden State.
It is time to use clean energy funds for their intended purpose, so that just maybe the lights won’t go out for weeks at a time in future storms.
And last but not least, the serenity to show other elected leaders that public service is not just about scoring points against your opponent, but really about finding a way to work together to solve problems. So, while your blunt Jersey-guy persona has played quite well in the past, recent history suggests that what New Jerseyans really respect is when you stand above the fray and calmly lead by example.
These gifts from the governor to the people of New Jersey would be a balm to the body politic at a time when it is needed most. Chris Christie has a unique opportunity to use the bully pulpit to be a genuine leader in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, while everyone else in his party seems determined to be Herbert Hoover. If recent polls are any indication, that will not only be the right thing to do for New Jersey, but also the right thing for the governor to do politically as he runs for reelection in 2013 and considers a run for the presidency in 2016.