‘He’s gold’ Ex-N.J. governors talk Christie’s second term

Andrew George//November 19, 2014

‘He’s gold’ Ex-N.J. governors talk Christie’s second term

Andrew George//November 19, 2014

At the League of Municipalities conference Wednesday in Atlantic City, a panel featuring five former New Jersey governors — Brendan Byrne, Donald DiFrancesco, Jim Florio, Richard Codey and John Bennett — discussed state issues concerning Gov. Chris Christie’s second term and his potential bid for the White House in 2016.Byrne noted that a lot has changed over the past year. In January, he said, many were wondering if a federal indictment was going to come down in the wake of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. Now, Byrne says, “He’s gold.”

“There’s no longer any shadow over him,” Byrne said. “He’s looking good. He’s popular. He’s probably the frontrunner in the Republican primary.”

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On Christie’s approval rating, which was at an unprecedented high of 77 percent in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and his since plummeted to under 50 percent, DiFrancesco said that the possibility of 2016 might have something to do with the low numbers.

“In the second term, I would expect that if he was not running for president, or not perceived to be running for president, that his numbers would be higher,” DiFrancesco said.

Recent reports indicate that if Christie were to announce his plans to run for president, he would not resign in order to become a full-time candidate. DiFrancesco said he believes Christie is “very capable” of juggling both.

Byrne agreed, adding, “You don’t need 24 hours a day to be governor.”

Florio said that much of it would depend on “what the state’s economy, the state’s well-being is.”

Codey said Christie has already been out of the state quite a bit this year as he’s traveled around the country in his capacity as Republican Governors Association chairman, and that his frequent absences have been largely overlooked up to this point.

“I think the criticism is kind of mild on that issue,” Codey said.

Bennett said that, if and when the time does come that Christie declares, New Jersey will be in the hands of a “very competent” lieutenant governor in Kim Guadagno:

“I think you’ll see her stepping up to the plate and having a greater involvement.”

As for policy issues that Christie is set to face in his second term, the matter of how to replenish the beleaguered Transportation Trust Fund was a hot topic for the former governors.

“The governor has to send a signal,” said Codey, who noted that it is Christie’s responsibility to specify what his desired proposal would be.

Christie has expressed interest in resolving the issue, but has yet to commit to any specific remedy.

Bennett praised the governor’s recent nomination of Jamie Fox for commissioner of the state Department of Transportation. That move, he said, “sent a message out” that Christie was serious about fixing the Transportation Trust Fund.

Florio added that a gas tax does seem likely.

“I think there’s a growing consensus among businesspeople, among labor people, that’s its going to be necessary to increase the gas tax,” Florio said.

In a lighter moment, Byrne addressed the difficulties of raising taxes in the state.

“In New Jersey, if you’re not getting something for nothing, you’re not getting your fair share,” he quipped.

On the issue of Atlantic City, several of the former governors expressed an interest in expanding casino gaming beyond the troubled Shore resort.

“I’m not saying we should turn our back on it, but it’s time to move on and expand that base,” Bennett said.

Codey said that, in driving around his district, he often sees buses going to out-of-state casinos in Pennsylvania and New York.

“The monopoly, pardon the pun, is over,” Codey said.