Wed, Jul 05, 2017 - Page 7 News List

New Jersey governor ends shutdown

‘BEYOND WORDS’:Chris Christie, whose popularity has slid to 15 percent, denied that his beach photograph scandal had anything to do with the budget resolution

AP, TRENTON, New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Monday talks at a meeting in Trenton, New Jersey.

Photo: AP

Governor Chris Christie, by his own admission, entered lame-duck territory yesterday, signing his final budget after a bruising three-day state government shutdown that included a viral photograph of him lounging on a state beach that was closed to the public because of a budget impasse.

The two-term Republican governor signed the US$34.7 billion budget early yesterday and sounded an unapologetic tone over the aerial photographs snapped by that showed him at the state governor’s residence at Island Beach State Park.

The photographs sparked a global reaction: countless memes featuring a photoshopped cutout of Christie in a beach chair, headlines on international news sites and a full-scale media blitz from Christie’s spokesman.

“If they had flown that plane over that beach and I was sitting next to a 25-year-old blonde in that beach chair next to me that’s a story,” he said. “I wasn’t sitting next to a 25-year-old blonde. I was sitting next to my wife of 31 years.”

The photographs are part of a bruising finale for the term-limited governor, who had been a regular on late-night TV and a Republican superstar after Hurricane Sandy hammered his state in 2012.

Christie’s job approval in New Jersey has sunk to 15 percent, tumbling after the convictions of three former aides in a scheme to deliberately cause traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge, his failed US presidential run and his backing of US President Donald Trump.

He has become such a political liability in New Jersey that his top deputy, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, running to succeed him, hammered him over the beach photographs: “Beyond words,” she said.

People in New Jersey and beyond seized on what many saw as a let-them-eat-cake gesture by the state’s chief executive.

“Taxpayers can’t use the parks and other public sites they pay for, but he and his family can hang out at a beach that no one else can use?” asked Mary Jackson, a Freehold, New Jersey, resident. “Doesn’t he realize how that looks, how people will see it as a slap in the face?”

Christie acknowledged his lame-duck status yesterday after the budget signing, but predicted that if Guadagno wins he still might have some influence with lawmakers — but less if Democrat Phil Murphy wins. The Legislature is expected to leave Trenton to campaign since all 120 seats are up this year.

Christie denied the beach photographs played a role in how he negotiated with lawmakers and said it was “the pressure of a shutdown” that contributed to the budget resolution.

He also has said he only worries about polls when he is running for office — and he is not.

However, experts said they think the photographs all but did him in.

“The photos are likely the nails in Christie’s political coffin that drive his approval ratings into the single digits,’” Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison said.

The deal Christie struck late on Monday with Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto calls for a US$34.7 billion budget that includes more than US$300 million in Democratic spending priorities and is part of an agreement to overhaul the state’s largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The Horizon legislation calls for annual audits of the nonprofit’s reserve level, sets a range for reserves and requires excess to be spent on policyholders.

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