Gov. Chris Christie spent the better part of his monthly radio show Thursday night attacking newspapers for lobbying against a measure that would cut into their revenues while also defending a failed plan to give upward of $10 million in raises to government workers and allow him to profit off a book.
Flashing anger and raising his voice, Christie lashed out at editorial writers and their corporate employers with the familiar language he typically reserves for public employee unions, calling newspapers “just another special interest feeding like pigs at the government trough.” The newspapers, he said, “unmasked themselves” in recent days as grubby corporate hypocrites by lobbying against his bill and publishing editorials on the front page.
Christie’s lengthy broadside during his “Ask the Governor” call-in show on NJ 101.5 FM cut into the call-in part. For about half an hour of the 50 minutes he was on the show, Christie either attacked the state’s newspapers or defended a bill he backed that would have allowed him to earn money off a book and give hundreds of judges, political appointees and workers raises.
The Legislature’s refusal to vote in favor of those proposals dealt an unprecedented blow to Christie, who has ruled Trenton with ironclad support from his party and has often been able to cut deals with Democrats to advance his agenda. But Christie dismissed the lobbying and outrage inside the State House in recent days as “kabuki theater.”
He has apparently been keep tracking of the days he has left in office, telling show host Eric Scott, “I have 391 days, and I’m not going to get off this issue” of newspaper legal ads.
The bill he favors would allow towns to post legal notices online rather than in newspapers, which also publish them online. The bill fell short of the 41 votes needed to clear the Assembly on Monday night. The speaker, Vincent Prieto, and Christie said bringing the bill back next year is a top priority because, they say, it would save towns money.
Christie’s office sampled newspapers and looked at their rates to determine that legal notices cost municipalities, banks, law firms and private developers $80 million a year to publish in print. The New Jersey Press Association disputes that figure, saying it is closer to $20 million a year. And of that, the association says, about $8 million comes from towns using taxpayer dollars.
The press association, newspaper executives and advocacy groups testified to legislative committees that the bill, if passed, would cause the loss of between 200 and 300 jobs in an industry already struggling to deal with a decadelong decline in revenues in an increasingly digital world. Christie questioned the accuracy of the industry’s figures on its legal ad revenue and issued a challenge to newspaper owners, including Gannett, which owns the Asbury Park Press and other papers in New Jersey.
“They’re not telling the truth, and if they wanted to prove it otherwise, produce your books,” Christie said. Naming the publisher of The Star-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper, Christie added, “Richard Vezza, Gannett, A.C. Press, produce your books.”
“Crickets,” he said. “Crickets.”
Multiple sources have told Gannett New Jersey that Christie is pushing for the legal notice bill as revenge against the newspapers that have been critical of him. Christie denied that, pointing out that the proposal had been introduced before he took office and once had bipartisan support.
Although that bill may return, the one that would give workers raises and let the governor earn money from a book had even less support and won’t be reconsidered, Prieto said. Christie’s term ends in January 2018.
“That’s fine. I’ll write a book in a year,” Christie said.
It was the first time Christie publicly acknowledged he intends to publish a book, but he has also blacked out the State House press and made few public comments about policy and state politics. Christie has not held a news conference in which he’s answered reporters’ questions since September. But on Thursday night he pointed out that many other governors have done so while in office, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.
“No one is going to write a book for free — nor should they,” Christie said. He later added, “This is kind of ridiculous.”
Opposition to the bill’s provision that would allow him to profit off a book, Christie said, came from “the haters out there [who] made it personal about me.”
Another element of the bill would hand out raises to judges and other workers estimated to cost at least $10 million a year. Christie called it a fairness issue, saying that many judges in the state are making less than they did several years ago. When asked about the public perception of linking a potential book deal with pay raises, Christie called it “all baloney” that is “driven by people who want to drive that, so you get idiots on this station who want to drive that.”
“I can defend every piece of it,” Christie said. He added, “Everybody says it’s a back-scratching deal or whatever. Any time you want to raise government salaries that’s what it’s called.”