Bergen record -
New Jersey got a preview last year of what happens when its leader is out of town on an extended leave as Governor Christie spent a third of the year outside the state rallying for candidates and raising record sums for the Republican Governors Association.
Now Christie is campaigning for himself. And cutting a path to the White House is a much more taxing endeavor than being a campaign cheerleader – taxing not only on the governor’s travel schedule, but also, most likely, on his mind as he focuses heavily on domestic and international policy and, presumably, prepares for debates.
The increased travel – and the attention Christie pays to his campaign – has raised the question of how Christie can work two full-time jobs at once.
The answer is rather simple to Christie. “As I’ve said many, many times before,” Christie told reporters in New Hampshire on Friday, “I can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Christie has laid out an ambitious agenda for the next two years at home, seeking to stabilize Atlantic City and persuade public employee unions and the Legislature to agree to further health and pension reforms.
Christie is a hands-on manager. While he’s on his monthly radio call-in show, for example, he often sends text messages back and forth with department heads, sometimes getting a reply from them on issues before a caller hangs up. His cellphone is usually in his front pocket during his town-hall-style meetings. And it was revealed during the investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closures that Christie and the director of the state’s independent authorities unit, Regina Egea – now his chief of staff – texted each other during testimony by Port Authority officials to a legislative panel.
“Anyone who thinks that he can’t address an issue in New Jersey if he’s not physically here on soil in New Jersey is crazy,” said Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, who is in regular contact with Christie’s staff and Guadagno. “Between the lieutenant governor and his chief of staff, Regina Egea, we’re in very good hands.”
But Christie is also the face of New Jersey and its ultimate political leader.
Even though Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has had a largely behind-the-scenes role as an adjutant to Christie, she has been able to instill confidence in her leadership in the Legislature and in the business community. She is also considered a contender to run for governor in 2017, and Christie’s absence could provide Guadagno the opportunity to pad her credentials should she try to succeed him.
Guadagno has the authority, in his absence, to sign executive orders and bills into law. Last year, for example, she signed a law that made CPR training mandatory in public high schools. Her public schedule is frequently filled with road trips to welcome new businesses or speak to civic groups, to fulfill a mandate by Christie to help develop and grow New Jersey’s economy.
“The luxury of doing the more ribbon-cutting-type things, the administrative things, they may drop off her schedule. The economic development things would probably stay on the top of her list,” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Wayne, who works closely with Guadagno on the state’s Red Tape Review Commission. “It certainly increases her responsibilities when he’s out of state, but you’ve got somebody who’s incredibly capable.”
Rumana added that he doesn’t foresee “any alteration at all” in how the state is managed while Christie campaigns. “It will be what it was like last year with [his] RGA responsibilities,” he said.
One of Christie’s most ardent supporters in the Legislature, Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, who is also considered a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2017, equated Christie’s role as governor to that of a chief executive of a major business. As long as the lines of communication are open and lawmakers are working with Christie, New Jersey will be just fine while Christie campaigns.
“We can accomplish anything in New Jersey whether Chris Christie is at home or running for president, as long as everyone else is working together,” said Bramnick, R-Union. “Cooperation is first. When you have that, you can be calling in from China.”