Here is what I cannot understand in New Jersey’s political world. By most accounts, Gov. Chris Christie is a decent human being. He is a family man with four children. He was recently inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence, which is really a special honor and includes Bruce Springsteen in its ranks.
However, I turn on my favorite radio station in the morning and he is a guest host and calls some reporter with whom he disagrees “a jerk and a dope.” Now there is an example for our Little Leaguers around the state. I am reminded of the movie Network, where actor Peter Finch, playing a television personality, implores his viewers to open their windows and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.” Today is that day for me.
First, the governor wastes $12 million in taxpayer money by holding a special election in October instead of having the Senate seat filled during the November general election. This is done simply because Cory Booker, a popular Democrat, will bring out voters not likely to vote for Christie. The governor wants a large plurality in November to enhance his national recognition.
Moreover, he then appoints his best friend as interim U.S. senator, who promptly goes on vacation days before a recess. Where was the urgency in this appointment?
For his next act, the governor spends $5 million on an advertising campaign that prominently includes himself. This is bothersome because the lower bid was as competent but less than half this cost and the monies came from Sandy relief funds. But he was not included in those ads.
But most horrifyingly, he ravages our Supreme Court by not offering reappointment to our justices. First with Justice John Wallace Jr., who had only 22 months to mandatory retirement, and now with Justice Helen Hoens. Both are 20-year veterans of our courts, having traveled through the trial and appellate levels.
Why were they not reappointed? Because the governor wants to make it “his court.” Then he presents a façade that while Hoens is highly qualified, he is protecting her from these “animals,” who are our state senators. Did he ask her about her choice to leave or to stay and fight? Why couldn’t she be judged on her body of work over the past 20 years? Was this decision made to court Latino voters in Florida so he could boast her replacement choice as his accomplishment?
Hoens is a woman of courage, who never would have walked away, yet she is turned away from a position she honored by her decades of service. Seven years ago, I attended Hoens’ swearing-in ceremony, which she dedicated to her adult son, Charlie, who is autistic. She was inspirational in her speech, and every man and woman present cried openly as she described Charlie’s life and yet he sat there smiling, unaware the speech was about him. Courage and integrity seemingly are traits that have little meaning when a person seeks votes for himself.
The governor is not alone. Senators on both sides of the aisle think that these sacred positions on the Supreme Court should be subject to partisan politics. Seemingly, these “animals,” as labeled by the governor, will tear apart anyone who carries the scent of another party. Hoens is a Republican, Wallace a Democrat. Is retaliation necessary as “pay back” in the war between parties? Wallace certainly did not want Hoens to suffer his fate as a “get even” measure. This is not justice.
This court was once, with Chief Justice Robert Wilentz, a beacon for our nation. Today that light has dimmed. The harm is not just to these two people, but to all of us. Once, a court litigant said to me, “Judge, sometimes there is justice, and sometimes it is just us.” Today, clearly, is one of those times. Today, there is no justice.
When a high school student reads that the Senate president calls the governor the name of a male body organ, it causes the young person to perceive that this title may be permitted for his or her teacher. At least the student would get detention. If the child were younger, a time out would be a given. If this is so, what consequence do we give our elected leaders for bad behavior? Certainly, it should not be our approval.
Hoens’ term does not expire until October; she can still be re-nominated. Bad decisions can be changed. Make us once again proud of our court. Governor, senators, please “just do it.” •