Don't be fooled into thinking the New Jersey Legislature found its courage this week when it denied Gov. Christie a double helping of greed and revenge. That was just the clumsy dance of a dog pack waiting for a new alpha to emerge.
Even the laziest lawmakers know Christie's power has the life span of a flea. But none can run very far from what they did because the recent saga tells a lot about their nature.
Christie enlisted the help of Speaker Vincent Prieto, a product of the Hudson County Democratic machine, which makes Philadelphia's convicted Democrats look like nuns, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, an unremarkable legislator hailing from the southern machine of cynical, transactional politics.
They fast-tracked a toxic mix of bills to weaken ethics rules so Christie could profit immediately from a memoir in exchange for raises for legislative staffs. It was a painless trade because ethics don't matter much Trenton.
For good measure, they bowed to President-elect Donald Trump's war on the news media and pushed a bill that would cut legal notices from newspapers, leading to lost revenue, projected job losses, and the possible closure of some weeklies. This is the same gang that didn't blink as it gave $7.4 billion in tax breaks to save or create jobs. They couldn't even come close to justifying this dirty deed. But that didn't stop a shameless Christie from trying.
Without proof, he falsely claimed pulling the legal ads would save towns millions. Christie was contradicted by an independent analysis that said it could cost them more. He couldn't show how residents interested in notices of public meetings or bids on public projects would be able to find them on government websites or how people without internet access could stay informed
Few have the time to sit in on freeholder, town council, or zoning board meetings or check how much money corporate interests are dumping on politicians. Instead, engaged residents look to newspapers to inform them. And, that's been a problem for Christie and his legislative lapdogs.
Even though it struggles in a volatile marketplace, New Jersey's press has pointed out Christie's failings. It sounded the early alarms on his fiscal incompetence, later confirmed by 10 credit downgrades, his destructive environmental policies, and cronyism like the recent gift of a $400-an-hour job to his once and possibly future law partner.
The kill-the-press bill existed because newspapers are primarily responsible to their readers, making them independent of the political establishment, which can't buy papers off with a raise for staffers, or a sweetheart deal on a contract.
Once independent news with the goals of being accurate and fair is gone, imagine what the politicians will do because you won't be reading about it.
Prieto and Sweeney couldn't get the votes for Christie's bills, but the governor swore he'd make killing newspapers a priority for next year. Voters should know that 2017 is his last in office and also when the entire Legislature is up for election. Show them what a rolled-up newspaper is good for.