Richard A. Lee
Politics is a full-contact sport. If you let your defenses down or make even the slightest misstep, your opponents are going to take full advantage of the opportunity to score political points.
So it comes as no surprise that, after repeatedly ending up with the short end of the stick in their battles with Republican Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey Democrats are slamming Christie and his Lieutenant Governor for being out-of-state while a massive snowstorm pummeled the East Coast.
The truth is the state’s top two officials should have better coordinated their schedules. If
is going to have a Lieutenant Governor whose responsibility is taking reins of the state while the Governor is away, he or she should avoid taking vacation at the same time as the boss. That’s the way most successful businesses operate. New Jersey
But aside from the scheduling issue, criticism of the Christie Administration on this point is off the mark.
For starters, Governors really never are on vacation. They are in contact on a regular basis with senior officials who brief them on activities back home. There also are breaking issues and questions from staffers that must be addressed in a timely matter. I know this from personal experience. I worked in a Governor’s Office for three-and-a-half years, and I was one of those staffers who made the phone calls and asked the questions we needed answered.
Today’s technology also weakens the criticism being leveled at the Governor. As long as you’re connected to a smart phone or a BlackBerry, updates and information from your staff will reach you just as quickly in the
Magic Kingdom as they would if you were in one of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities.
In addition, when it comes to managing snowstorms and other weather-related emergencies, a Governor may not be the most important person in the room. It is the emergency management, law enforcement and transportation professionals who have the knowledge and expertise to develop and implement effective response plans.. It is the Governor who signs off on their recommendations, relays information to the media, and then rides a snowplow for a photo op.
In terms of importance, it is difficult to make a convincing argument that a Governor’s whereabouts during a snowstorm should be a major priority. There are plenty of criteria to evaluate the performances of our state’s chief executives. How they manage the state during snowstorms certainly is a part of that equation, but it pales in comparison to how they address issues such as property taxes, education and health care.
Finally, we all need and deserve vacations – and public officials are no exceptions. Vacations make it possible to relax and spend time with our families. They also provide a break from the pressure and tension of the workplace, so that we return to our jobs energized and re-charged.
President Obama has been enjoying a holiday vacation in
Hawaii with his family, and he still is managing to run the country. It will take more than a snowstorm to keep Chris Christie from running New Jersey.
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Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at
, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies. Rutgers University