New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is fast emerging as a center-right hero who appeals to both conservatives and independent-minded moderates. And his actions in the brouhaha over New Jersey’s loss of $400 million in federal education funding show why.
The funding loss threatened to undermine Christie because it suggests managerial incompetence and failure. But, as the cliché has it, Christie has turned a lemon into lemonade and, in the process, shown himself to be an even better and stronger leader.
First, Christie went before the media to accept responsibility for this failure. But he also provided some crucially important explanatory context.
In a Race to the Top application that numbered more than 1,000 pages, Christie explained, one page had incorrect information. The feds had asked for a comparison of 2008 and 2009 budget data, but the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) had provided, instead, a comparison of 2010 and 2011 data.
“Now, I’m not gonna fire somebody over this,” Christie said. “This was a simple clerical error in putting together an application of this size. Am I happy about it? Of course not. “
But Christie also rightly criticized the Obama administration for not bothering to “pick up the phone” and ask for this information. The data, he said, also is available on the state’s Department of the Treasury website. Christie went on to lambaste the federal bureaucrats for their apparent indifference to the real-world consequences of their misdeeds.
Are you guys just down there checking boxes like mindless drones? Or are you thinking? Because what you want to have happen is to have a firestorm of reform of our education system in New Jersey, which is necessary — and [reform] across the country.
Christie then delivered an impassioned plea in defense of the “mid-level” public servant who made an honest mistake, a simple “clerical error.”
But if you think for a minute [that] I’m going to fire some mid-level person at DOE [the Department of Education], who was putting this application together, because they put one wrong piece of paper in [to the application], then you don’t know me.
That person doesn’t deserve that treatment. I’m not gonna even give you the person’s name because they don’t deserve to be called out in that way.
I’m taking responsibility. [New Jersey State Education] Commissioner Bret D. Schundler is taking responsibility. And I am not going to allow anybody to be scapegoated over this. You want to take shots, take shots at me.
Anyone who’s ever worked on the staff of some bullying big shot — be they a bullying big-shot politician, elected official, celebrity, General or military leader, et al — is surely cheering Christie, and with good reason: Here is a man who stands by his people. Here is a man for whom loyalty truly is a two-way street. Here is a man who refuses to throw his subordinates under the bus just because doing so might be politically expedient and convenient.
Hear hear, Governor! On behalf of mid-level staffers everywhere, I salute you! You have earned our deep-seated admiration and respect.
Now, as it turns out Christie was lied to: by his own state education commissioner, Bret D. Schundler. Indeed, a videotape surfaced that showed Schundler and his colleagues had been asked (by the Obama administration) specifically about the missing 2010-2011 data, and that they failed to provide the requisite information.
So Christie didn’t hesitate to do what he quite clearly had to do, and that is fire Schundler. “He [Schundler] can’t lie to me,” Christie reportedly told his aides.
The American people don’t expect their political leaders to be perfect or mistake-free. What they do expect, however, is that when trouble hits, our leaders will honestly and forthrightly address the problems that confront them. Chris Christie has done just that. And for his leadership and grace under fire, he deserves praise and recognition.
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