Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is taking a few victory laps after passing a pension and health care reform bill in New Jersey, reaching agreement with the Democratic legislature on a bill that had to be hard for them to swallow. Christie has made the rounds, appearing on Meet the Press and Morning Joe, talking not only of his legislative success, but laying out what he believes a CEO needs to do to move an agenda. Christie made a couple of points that I believe have value, regardless of Party affiliation.
1) Being the executive is substantially different than being a legislator. In order to move your agenda you must be involved, and “have skin in the game”. I truly believe Christie has that one exactly right. Either you are willing to expend some political capital or you will not get anything done. Christie’s actions on this latest New Jersey bill are instructive. He did 30 town hall style meetings across New Jersey, bluntly putting forward his best arguments for the bill. The Governor not only was willing to expend capital but to work hard to build public support for his position. The “work hard” part is often lost on public officials who wonder why they lose public policy fights.
2) Christie correctly points out that being “blunt” does not mean being inflexible. If you want to make public progress on tough issues you must realize that negotiations require give and take. The Governor talked in the Morning Joe segment about his change of heart on the sunset provision involved in this legislation. He gave way on that issue after indicating that he would not, striving to achieve the best deal he could under the circumstances. For all of you budding Mayors and City Managers out there learn an important lesson from Chris Christie here. Inflexibility means gridlock, and compromise moves important issues forward. Christie, for all of his bombast, has mastered the legislative process. It is true that such compromising sometimes subjects you to heavy criticism from both sides of an issue. But that is why political capital is accumulated. To be spent.
On another note Christie had some fun at the expense of Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, who had been critical of Christie on the issue of labor relations. Malloy pointed to his own good relationship with the state employees of Connecticut, and built a budget that included a large tax hike and projected savings of $1.6 billion from union labor. That agreement, reached by Governor Malloy and the leadership of 15 unions, failed to win ratification by the rank and file, with the biggest state union voting against. Governor Malloy is now preparing to lay off about 7500 state workers, representing a staggering 16% of the overall workforce. This is a stunning turn of events, leaving the Governor in a difficult spot and quite frankly showing that the state workers in Connecticut just don’t get it. The refusal of this deal has to be amongst the single most self defeating acts in recent political history. Governor Christie will be very quick to remind folks (as he did on Morning Joe) that Governor Malloy increased taxes and got nothing in return.
A very good week for Chris Christie, earned through political smarts, flexibility, and hard work. Lessons to be learned for sure.