New Jersey has a reputation for being special. In the summer, we go to the shore instead of the beach. We aren’t allowed to pump our own gas. And almost none of the nice restaurants in the area have liquor licenses because the mafia owns the few licenses the state issues. We do have restaurants with liquor licenses that go through a sequence of “new owners” before they’re burned down, but that’s a story for another post.
We also have a history of Governor problems in the decade Brook likes to call “The Naughties”. Our problems were exacerbated by the fact that up until 2009, the state of New Jersey didn’t have a Lieutenant Governor position. How ironic that in a state chock full of excessive administration, we wouldn’t have a lieutenant governor during the decade when one would have come in handy. Go figure.
Let me back up a second and say that although New Jersey is considered to be solidly blue in presidential matters, that’s a bit of a misleading statistic. Our Congressional representation in the House is 50/50. We also have no female congressional reps and haven’t for several decades. The local Democratic org says that’s because none ever apply, to which I answer that there don’t appear to be any lower level female politicians who are mentored and why is that? But I digress. New Jersey also votes for Republican governors and while Democrats are lucky if they last through a single term, Republican governors are usually two termers. Tom Kean and Christie Whitman come immediately to mind. Our story begins with Christie Whitman when a Democratic legislator named Richard Codey served the first of his several terms as governor of New Jersey.
When Whitman became head of the EPA under George Bush the lesser, she left a void in Drumthwacket (that’s the gov’s mansion right outside of Princeton).
Since there was no lieutenant governor, the time left in her term until the election of a new governor was filled by the president of the state senate. In 2001, the person in that position changed three times and each senate president took a turn being governor. Richard Codey served his first 3 day term as governor just before Jim McGreevey, the newly elected governor, was sworn in. We all know what happened to Jim McGreevey. When he stepped down, Richard Codey, then president of the state senate, became governor once again for about half a year until the next governor could be elected. That new governor happened to be Jon Corzine. But during the transfer of power when Corzine went from Senator to Governor, there was some weird little protocol where the state was in danger of not having an acting governor for a few hours (Oh No!), so Codey was asked to fill in until Corzine was free to take over.
Corzine had a thing for taking risks even back then. Early in his term, he decided that he didn’t need to wear a seat belt as his SUV raced up the highway from Atlantic City because he was special. What former Wall Street banker isn’t? What could possibly happen?
Well, the SUV speeding at 91 mph could be involved in a serious accident where the governor was tossed around in the vehicle like dirty laundry and broke his femur. The fracture, and other injuries, were very serious and the governor was hospitalized and incapacitated. Richard Codey once again stepped up to fill the vacancy while Corzine temporarily suspended his powers for about 3 weeks.
So, if you’ve been counting, that makes Richard Codey the governor of NJ *four* times. After the last time, the state got serious about the Lieutenant Governor position and in 2009 we elected our first.
But back to Codey. He turned out to be not bad as a governor. He’s a true blue Democrat that leans liberal and has a passion for championing the mentally ill. His one major accomplishment during his brief stint as governor was making sure that insurance companies cover treatment for mental illness and postpartum depression. He also made sure stem cell research wouldn’t face any obstacles in New Jersey. It appears that everyone played nicely when Codey was in office, although he wasn’t in long enough to make any significant policy changes. Even stranger was that even though he got good approval ratings, nobody really knew who he was. His tenure was just one of those special things that happen here. When his last crack at being governor ended, he went back to the senate. All hunky dory and people forgot about him. Until 2009.
In 2009, Jon Corzine was facing reelection against Republican Chris Christie. Let’s remember here that New Jersey doesn’t have a problem with Republican governors. Christie was not as moderate as Kean and Whitman but Corzine would have had a better chance of winning if he hadn’t been so meh as a governor. During the economic catastrophe that followed the housing bubble, he should have stepped up and presented some policies that would have helped municipalities and cash strapped property tax payers. But he didn’t. He represented the bonus class. He was a former Goldman-Sachs guy and I think that he thought he could ride to reelection on the coat tails of Barack Obama.
Part way through the election campaign, it looked like Corzine wasn’t going to have the cake walk he was anticipating. He was having trouble attracting interest and couldn’t fill his rally venues. The race was starting to tighten up. This is where it gets interesting. Richard Codey says it happened like this:
Codey said he got a call from the White House a week after Vice President Joe Biden appeared at Corzine’s poorly attended primary night kickoff rally in West Orange in June. “They wanted to talk about what’s going on with the governor’s race,” he said. “They would call me every week, every two weeks.”
By July, Codey said there was growing concern from the president’s advisers as Corzine’s polls declined even as he poured money into anti-Christie ads. It grew worse after 44 arrests on July 23 in a corruption and money-laundering case.
Corzine privately mused to the White House he was having second thoughts about continuing his campaign, Codey said.
“He was, mentally, as low as you can get,” Codey said of Corzine, even before July 23. “Then this … hit. It was understandable he was having a moment where he was saying ‘to hell with this.’”
Codey said White House political director Patrick Gaspard called him and expressed “great concern about the governor’s race, (Corzine’s) lack of support amongst Democrats and whether or not he would be able to overcome it. He never criticized Jon personally. But he said he was meeting with Obama and ‘the president wants to know if you might run if, in fact, Mr. Corzine got out.’ Can he tell the president ‘Yes.’”
Codey said Gaspard detailed an internal poll that showed Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. Frank Pallone about the same as Corzine, but Codey leading Christie by double digits.
“I told Gaspard I was going to be seeing Mr. Corzine in Trenton. I told him I felt duty-bound in terms of being a gentleman to tell Corzine. I sat with Corzine. I told him what I knew. I said ‘as a friend, I just wanted you to know.’ I said ‘bottom line is you’re the decision-maker. You want out, just do me a favor let me know as soon as possible. If you’re going to stay in there, I’m with you.’”
“I did not hear back from the White House.”
I guess the Democratic party leadership was concerned that losing New Jersey to a Republican would look bad. (And it did, Oh, how it did) And even though Corzine went out of his way to make sure to deliver all of New Jersey’s delegation to Obama during the 2008 convention in Denver, from a primary that Obama LOST by 10 points to Hillary Clinton, I might add, Obama and Biden didn’t feel any sense of loyalty to this guy who carried their water and sold out the rest of the state for them. So they approached Richard Codey and tried to work out a deal where they would pressure Corzine to step aside in the campaign and Codey would become the nominee.
Oh no they di-int. Oh yes they did.
Corzine didn’t quit but that hardly matters, does it? It was the thought that counts. And the thought was that Corzine was in danger of losing the governorship of New Jersey and the Democrats were concerned enough to want to make a switch of candidates at the top of the ticket of an incumbent governor with a solid, well liked Democrat former temporary governor whose approval rating was higher than Corzine’s.
So, ladies and gentlemen, if someone tells you that it’s not possible to change candidates before or during the Convention, and that the world would end if we merely *entertained* the idea of changes at the top of the ticket, remember that it was Obama himself who proposed the very same thing to the Democrats of New Jersey in 2009 when Corzine was in danger of failing. Indeed, he did fail and Christie the Republican is now governor. All that stuff about how an incumbent is sacred and the primary voters have spoken (because they had a gun to their heads and didn’t have a choice) and the world will end, yada-yada-yada, all that is bullshit. The Democrats are a private party. They can (and have) change the rules any time they want. We have seen by 2008’s example that the delegates can be forced to vote for who ever the party wants, voters be damned. And if they want to switch candidates, it can be done. Franklin Roosevelt switched out his VPs, Lyndon Johnson stepped out of the race when he knew he couldn’t win a second term and, by golly, if Democrats don’t think Obama can win in 2012, they can make him “spend more time with his family”.
Obama and Corzine have a lot in common. It’s not like Christie is well loved by New Jerseyans or that we actually wanted a Republican this time around.
The problem was we didn’t want Corzine anymore. Voters were well aware of all of Christies liabilities and Corzine’s campaign flogged us with the fear whip and tons of advertising to make Christie look bad. In the end, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t about Christie. It was about Corzine’s performance. Voters judged him fairly, so, he lost. I might add that Independent Chris Daggett, who I voted for, took almost 6% of the vote, almost all of it from Corzine’s hide. New Jerseyans wanted to send a message to the Democrats but it remains unclear whether the Democrats actually got it.
But if any Democrat tells you you’re crazy to even suggest that Obama step aside for a better Democrat in 2012, and starts terrorizing you about Supreme Court justices and women losing access to birth control and dogs and cats living together, ask them why the Democrats didn’t think a candidate switch was so crazy in New Jersey in 2009. Obama is not having a cakewalk this year. And in spite of the media blitz against Mitt, Obama and Mitt are still tied in the polls. People may not like Mitt personally, but they really don’t like Obama’s performance. He has let regular people out to hang by themselves for four long years. The Democrats are fooling themselves if they think that’s not going to hurt in November. And it’s not like the Democrats don’t have a back up who would be a lot more popular than any politician on the current scene.
Time to call Obama into the office and tell him management would like to make a change. We’re in the doldrums, the dog days and the base is depressed. Change up the ticket, bring in a relief pitcher see what happens. I’d be very surprised if management hasn’t already entertained such a possibility behind closed doors. In the event of an Obama loss in November, they might be in political oblivion for a very long time. If the Democrats are sincerely concerned about all the horrible things they fear will happen if Mitt wins, then they owe voters a REAL choice.
Otherwise, the country might just end up with a Chris Christie type Republican in the White House in 2013 and it will be very hard to take Democrats seriously if they lose without ever considering changing their lineup.