A recent Quinnipiac University poll of more than 1,100 registered voters in New Jersey found that Republican Gov. Chris Christie has become the most unpopular chief executive in any state surveyed by the university in more than 20 years — but it seems like he’s working to get even lower if he can. The one-time presidential contender and Donald Trump surrogate, who was reportedly gunning for a job in the administration, has gone from being synonymous with “Bridgegate” to now making “Beachgate” his final political legacy.
The Newark Star-Ledger caught now-infamous aerial photos over the weekend of Christie and his family lounging at Island Beach State Park, a 10-mile run of sand currently off-limits to the public due to a government shutdown initiated by the governor.
He’s got his, the photos seem to say to voters, so forget everybody else.
Christie had come to an impasse with the Democratic-majority state legislature over his proposal, as part of the state’s annual budget debate, to force the state’s largest health insurer to turn over part of its reserves to help fund a state drug-treatment initiative. The deadline for signing the budget was June 30 and, having failed to come to terms with the legislature, Christie opted to shut down the government instead. For its part, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield has accused Christie of trying to “retaliate against Horizon’s 3.8 million policyholders for opposing his $300 million reserve raid that has been called a shakedown and extortion.”
In response to the criticism that the governor should’ve been working to resolve the situation on behalf of tourists and residents on a holiday weekend — rather than spending time at the taxpayer-funded beach retreat — Christie himself claimed at a press conference that he “didn’t get any sun,” apparently unaware the photos of him sunning himself on the closed beach already existed.
Christie’s office tried to perform some damage control Monday, posting this tweet to assure the public that most beaches were open:
His office is, technically, correct: Very few beaches in New Jersey are actually under state control. Most of them are administered at the local level or, in some cases, as federal parks. As such, almost all New Jersey beaches are still open.
State control does extend, however, to a great number of parks, which feature campgrounds, lakes and nature trails — and those parks are currently closed off, just like the spot on which Christie and his friends and family decided to relax Sunday.
But from a political standpoint, the issue isn’t that 92% of the Jersey shoreline is still open to would-be beachgoers. The issue is that the one man who forced the government to shut down has nevertheless granted himself and those close to him exclusive access to the remaining 8%.
“That’s because the governor has a residence at Island Beach. Others don’t,” Christie said at a press conference Saturday in response to questions about his weekend plans to stay at the beach, before the pictures surfaced. “It’s just the way it goes. Run for governor and then you can have the residence.”
In other words, to quote Mel Brooks: “It’s good to be the king!”
But even his own allies are horrified by the message Christie’s family frolic sends to constituents. Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, who is trailing badly in the polls to succeed the governor in November, created some space between the two of them on this public relations fiasco, calling upon both Christie and Democratic legislative leaders to get back to work:
Christie’s other behaviors during the shutdown aren’t exactly showing a sense of compassion for the little guy, either. He’s also suggested that furloughed state workers will not receive back pay once it’s over, as they did during a previous shutdown back in 2006. “Don’t count on it,” Christie said Friday afternoon, as the midnight deadline was about to kick in. “That was [former governor] Jon ‘I’ll fight for a good contract for you’ Corzine. I ain’t him.”
So, the shutdown Christie had initially sold as necessary to fund a compassionate state-run drug-treatment program by taking money from a wealthy company has now become an example of the governor flaunting his own power and acting as yet another Republican plutocrat in Trump’s America.
Visitors to any state offices or parks are now greeted by taxpayer-funded “official government advice” signs featuring a photo of Christie’s nemesis, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, and the message: “This facility is CLOSED because of this man, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.” The sign also includes the phone number to Prieto’s office.
The problem is, if people remember one person’s photo from this shutdown, it’s not going to be Prieto’s: It’s going to be Christie himself, lounging on an empty beach of his own making, enjoying the so-called perks of public service even as regular taxpayers had to make alternate plans — and the rest of the state’s public servants contemplated how to make ends meet without their paychecks.