Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is Gay Marriage Coming To New Jersey?

Probably not. But today's WSJ coverage of the issue caught my eye for two reasons.

Today, New Jersey's Senate approved, by 24-16, a bill legalizing gay marriage. The bill now moves to the State Assembly, where it faces an uphill slog. And ultimately a veto from Governor Christie.

Interestingly, two Republican Senators defied the Governor and voted for gay marriage -- Jennifer Beck and Diane Allen. Governor Christie is well-known for punishing those Republicans who vote against his wishes. It is one of the ways the Governor has maintained such tight control over the State's Republican legislators. It will be interesting to see if the Governor takes any shots at Beck and Allen.

The second thing that caught my eye is probably the single most tasteless quote from an opponent of gay marriage that I have ever read. "When you give special rights to a small sexual minority, you rape the [First Amendment rights] of the majority," said Gregory Quinlan of the New Jersey Family Policy Council. Really -- rape?

I've become to immune to statements like that from Republican Senator Gerald Cardinale, who stated that "[i]ncest produces negative impacts on our society. But if we open marriage to some same-sex couples in the name of anti-discrimination, why not to all couples?" It's like Rick Santorum (I'm secretly rooting for you, Rick) saying why stop at letting two men marry, why not three, or more? Or like Rick Santorum comparing gay marriage to bestiality.

But rape is beyond the pale. To say that allowing gay marriage is committing rape on the rights of straight people shows a lack of respect both for gay people and to women -- it's a double smack against lesbians, I guess.

Can we all agree to keep our homophobia within socially acceptable parameters? If I agree to allow poligamy, incest and bestiality comparisons, can we agree to draw the line at rape?


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Governor Misses The Gay Mark

Since my favorite reality show, the Republican Debates, appears to be going on hiatus for a few weeks, I thought I would get back to blogging about Chris Christie.

As a gay citizen of New Jersey, I disagree with all of those who say the Governor has been masterful in his recent gay rights activities. He has appointed an openly gay Supreme Court Justice and he has called for a state wide referendum on gay marriage.

First, the Justice. Bruce A. Harris is black and gay, a double minority. And while I'm all for diversity on the court, I find this appointment disappointing. Harris has absolutely no judicial experience -- he is the former mayor of a conservative town, Chatham, and a lawyer from a conservative law firm, Greenberg Traurig. I have to believe that there are more experienced gay jurists in the State more worthy of being elevated to the Supreme Court than is Harris.

In other words, the fact that Harris is gay does not automatically mean that his appointment to the Supreme Court is a good thing for gay people. While a would welcome an experienced jurist who was not disqualified for being gay, I do not welcome an inexperienced jurist whose primary qualifications appear to be being gay and being black.

As for the call for a statewide referendum on gay marriage, this is clearly turning a civil right into a political football. First of all, it takes the issue out of the state legislature. Most conservatives have been calling for gay marriage to be decided by state legislatures and not by the courts. So why would Christie break from the conservative mainstream?

Because this year Senator Bob Menendez is running for re-election to the Senate and will probably win. There is no Republican candidate who can truly match Menendez' popularity. Republican State Senator Joe Kyrillos has said he will challenge Menendez, but no one thinks Kyrillos has a shot. Kyrillos has no name recognition outside of Trenton and is unlikely to motivate Republicans to come out to the polls.

But if a referendum on gay marriage is on the ballot, conservative voters will come out in droves. Conservative voters who will most likely vote Republican.

So Christie is not trying to try to find the most appropriate means by which to determine the question of gay marriage in New Jersey, he is using the issue of gay marriage to bring out the Kyrillos vote in the Senatorial campaign. Vintage Christie, yes; but appropriate treatment of civil rights for gay couples, no.

I'm happy to see that Christie's call for a Statewide referendum has met with some resistance. The Wall Street Journal reports that Christie said:

"People would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South."

Georgia Representative George Lewis, who was beaten in the streets of the South during the civil rights movement, has traveled to Trenton to call the Governor out on the idiocy of his statement. Says Lewis:

"If put to a referendum, [civil rights laws] would never ever won. The action of Congress, executive orders of the President and the courts brought down those signs that said white man, colored man, white woman, colored woman. We had to march . . .we had to protest."

And even Christie pal Cory Booker chimed in by saying:

"I shudder to think what would have happened if civil rights issues for African-Americans were relegated to referendums in the 50 states."

So, to my thinking, the Governor has a tin ear on gay rights issues, and his ham-fisted efforts to appear open-minded have offended not only the gay community but the African-American community as well. Such ignorance of the history of the civil rights movement will surely dog the Governor as he attempts to seek national office.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Unitary Executive Of New Jersey Strikes Again

So Chris Christie is offering to restore the $139 million in discretionary aid to urban areas he cut from the Democratic budget. With one caveat -- the Governor gets to oversee how the money is spent.

The Governor's stated rationale is that the discretionary aid has been used by Democratic party bosses as a piggy bank. But when you look at the Governor's pattern of behavior, another reason emerges.

This Governor has publicly stated that the State Constitution gives him a lot of power, and he intends to use all of it. And the way Chris Christie uses his power is as any fundraiser would (Christie is a fundraiser at heart).

Any power the Governor gets will be used to punish those who cross him and reward those who support him. How vindictive is the Governor? He used a line item veto to cut $100,000 from a Rutgers intern program because the program was run, in part, by the Rutgers professor who chose the Democratic redistricting map over the Republican plan.

So when the Governor says he wants oversight on how urban areas spend their discretionary aid, he is really saying that he is looking for power to punish those in urban areas who cross him and reward those in urban areas who support him.

At least the Governor is consistent.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Budget Of Retribution

I recently heard Sen. Buono describe the Governor's line item veto of some $900 million from the state budget as a retribution by budget.

I thought it an interesting perspective. Most of the so-called news coverage I have heard about the Governor's line item veto focused on women, children and AIDS patients. Certainly, these are the areas where Democrats will seek to override the Governor's veto. While I could understand (while disagreeing with) the Governor's decision that there was not enough money in the budget for these safety net social services, I would not say the Governor was trying to get back at women, children and AIDS patients.

What did occur to me was the huge amount of discretionary funding for urban areas that the Governor cut. Here, I could see retribution. The State Supreme Court ordered the Governor to send $500 million to urban areas to adequately fund schools. The Governor then responded by reducing State aid to urban areas by $140 million. This particular cut was labeled "vindictive" by Sheila Oliver and by Bonnie Watson-Coleman.

On the one hand, the Governor is catering to his base, wealthy suburbs which feel that too many of their tax dollars are sent to urban areas. On the other hand, the Governor was simply continuing to act as the unitary executive of New Jersey. The Supreme Court says to send more money? He just goes around the Supreme Court.

I think that the Sen. Buono, when using the word "retribution," has hit on a potentially powerful criticism of the Governor. Using the power of one's office to seek retribution against political enemies and taxpayers is not one of the qualities most people look for in a President. At least Nixon had the good sense to use intermediaries, for all the good it did him.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Quick Note On AIDS Patients

New Jersey has about 35,000 people living with AIDS. In 2010, about 7,645 people received AIDS medications, as well as medications for AIDS related health issues, under the State ADAP, or AIDS Drug Assistance Program. About half of those people are African-American and about a quarter are Latinos. The 2010 budget cut about 950 of those people from the ADAP plan by lowering the income eligibility for the program from 5 times the Federal poverty rate to 3 times the Federal poverty rate.

Then the Governor announced that, by negotiating additional drug rebates with pharmaceutical companies, those 950 people would continue to get their AIDS drugs free from the State. Of course, they would no longer receive free drugs for AIDS related medical conditions.

In the 2011 budget, the Democratic legislature tried to restore those 950 people to the ADAP program, thus restoring their right to receive free drugs for AIDS related medical conditions in addition to their AIDS meds. Since the 950 were already getting their AIDS meds free, this was a modest budget proposal. In 2009, the State spent $8.7 million in ADAP funds for people making 4 and 5 times the poverty level; the additional rebates from pharmaceutical companies must have reduced this figure dramatically.

However, despite the nominal cost of the program, the change did not escape the Governor's line item veto. So, for another year, the largely black and latino AIDS population making 4-5 times the poverty level -- i.e., between $32,500 and $55,150 -- will not be getting free medication for AIDS related illnesses.

Insert millionaires' tax joke here.

The Helicopter Flap and the Missed Point

By now we've all heard about CopterGate; Chris Christie taking a State helicopter from Trenton to his son's baseball game, and then taking the copter back to Trenton to meet with a delegation from Iowa trying to get the Governor to jump into the Presidential Race. Since neither trip was for State purposes, critics cried foul.

Practically speaking, this should have been a non-event. The helicopters have to fly a certain amount of hours for training, so they would have been in the air anyway. And, reportedly, Christie uses the helicopter much less frequently than did his immediate Democratic predecessors.

But this is not a practical issue. This is an exercise in branding.

There are three legs to the Republican Party, the fiscal conservatives, the social conservatives and the small government advocates. Christie is a favorite of all three legs -- not only has he cut the budget and laid off government workers, he has also defunded all women's health centers because three provided abortions and has come out against gay marriage (no pun intended).

Truth be told, there are fiscal conservatives and small government advocates outside of the Republican party. Like me, for instance. The biggest reason I'm not a member of the Republican party is because I cannot join forces with the social conservative wing of the party.

So any chance Christie opponents can get to either (i) play up Christie's social conservative values, making him unattractive to independents like me, or (ii) attack Christie's bona fide credentials as a fiscal conservative or a small government advocate, making him less attractive to all of his fans, they are going to jump. This is in addition to efforts such as Loretta Weinberg's repeatedly making the Governor veto bills for women's health centers, and the Democrats repeatedly making the Governor veto a millionaire's tax, because they want to make the Governor unattractive to women and blue collar workers, i.e., Democrats.

The attention to the Governor's helicopter trip was an attempt to reach into the Governor's own base and show him to be a big government guy, taking advantage of his perks as Governor while causing middle class pain.

And this does strike at a weak spot of the Governor. As a U.S. Attorney, Christie was repeatedly cited for staying at hotels more luxurious and expensive than other Attorneys General, i.e., repeatedly taking expensive perks for himself and his staff on the public dime.

But Christie opponents continue to miss the biggest chink in the Governor's Republican bona fides, which is his continued expansion of the State's Executive Branch. Christie has repeatedly said he will use his power as Governor to the full extent of his Consitutional powers. He has sacked a State Supreme Court Justice for purely political reasons, an unprecedented step; he has taken over various independent watchdog agencies; he has taken over Atlantic City; he sought to limit the amounts municipalities can choose to pay their school superintendents, expanding State power; and he fired the Newark School Superintendent for no reason other than he wanted to to make room for Michelle Rhee, who ultimately turned down the job. These are not the actions of a small government advocate, yet no one has successfully connected the dots to call the Governor on his expansion of State power.

So tilt at helicopters if you will, but at least notice the big stuff.

State Commission of Investigation in Chris Christie's Pocket

What with the death of public media in New Jersey and all, I thought it was time to fire up the blog again.

Prior to Chris Christie's taking office, New Jersey had three independent watchdog agencies -- the Inspector General, the Medicaid Inspector General and the State Commission of Investigation. Last year, as a budget cutting move, the Inspector General and the Medicaid Inspector General were merged with the State Comptroller, bringing both into the Executive Branch and under the control of Chris Christie.

Christie also wanted to merge the State Commission of Investigation into the Comptroller's Office. However, the SCI is under the jurisdiction of the Legislature; and there was great outcry from both Democrats and Republicans, currently in office and retired, against merging the agency. So the Governer relented.

In late March of this year, however, Governor Christie announced that U.S. Attorney Patrick Degnan had been named Executive Director of SCI for the next three years. Degnan, like anyone who has ever worked for Christie, knows that if Degnan ever crosses Christie, not only will Christie never again promote him but Degnan will be on Chris Christie's hit list. Think Joan Verplank at the Chamber of Commerce.

How exactly did Chris Christie get his man in charge at the State Commission of Investigation? Members of SCI are appointed by the Governor, the President of the New Jersey Senate and the Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly. Which means Steve Sweeney and Sheila Oliver agreed placed the SCI under the control of a former U.S. Attorney approved by Chris Christie.

One wonders the full parameters of THAT deal.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Haley Barbour Clears The Way For A Christie Run In 2012

Haley Barbour has announced that he will not seek the Presidency in 2012.

As head of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour was a staunch supporter of Chris Christie's gubernatorial run. And since Christie is essentially a fundraiser at heart, he knows not to bite the hand that feeds him. So since the RGA pumped millions of dollars into Christie's campaign, Christie raised millions for Republican gubernatorial candidates in 2010.

As long as Haley Barbour was a potential Presidential candidate, Christie could not run. Christie simply will not run against anyone who supported him to the extent Barbour did -- it would violate the Christie brand of rewarding his benefactors and punishing his foes.

But it's an entirely new situation now, opening the possibility that Barbour himself, through the RGA, would launch a draft Christie campaign. Why would Barbour do that? His term as Governor of Mississippi is up in 2012, and he is term barred from running again. Which means Barbour will be looking for a job in 2012. Helping Christie take the White House would mean a plum position in Washington for Barbour.

Time will tell.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Proof The Christie Plan Is Working

Yesterday, NJN News had footage of students across New Jersey protesting against tuition hikes.

I remember stories of students protesting against the war in Viet Nam. I can remember protesting against Reagan-era policies on the environment and on Central America. Today's students protest over tuition.

And that's the plan. Undermine the middle class so they only have the time and energy to worry about their own survival, and they won't have time to worry about anything else.

I've heard the common wisdom that if you're not a liberal in your 20's you have no heart and if you're not a conservative in your 40's you have no mind. But if you never get to be a liberal in your 20's, where do you end up in your 40's?