Governor of New Jersey is a Hell of a Job

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 17 2011 1:45 PM

Governor of New Jersey is a Hell of a Job

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Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

Peter Hamby breaks some news, maybe, sort of, about the un-ending quest to force Chris Christie into the presidential race.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

A Republican close to Chris Christie says the pressure is intensifying on him to join the presidential race but insists that the New Jersey governor's mind has not changed. "I think that anybody could change their mind, but I don't see any evidence of that," the source told CNN Wednesday. "They continue to be pestering him and urging him to run."
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This has been going on for a while, actually, and after more anonymous Republicans suggested that Rick Perry would doom Republicans in New Jersey (Republicans can easily win a national election without it), it was inevitable. Ross Douthat made the Christie Case again on Monday:

[S]erving as the budget-cutting Republican governor of a Democratic state is a far, far better preparation for what awaits the next president than either Perry’s small-government idyll or Romney’s permanent campaign. In his brief New Jersey tenure, Christie has accomplished more, against more determined opposition, amid more media scrutiny and with more resilient poll numbers than almost any Great Recession politician.

And he sounds good doing it! One reason Christie can talk so tough, though, is that Governor of New Jersey might be the most powerful executive position in America. He has the ability to maneuver around a legislature, if he wants to; his Senate has no filibuster. Refer yourself to Daniel Foster's profile of Christie from 2010. His first agenda-setting act was to "impound $2.2 billion in appropriations." Presidents used to be able to impound appropriated money, but the power was taken away from them in the post-Watergate reform era. He won the budget fight with tools that a president doesn't have.

New Jersey’s constitution gives an oppositional majority little in the way of procedural tools to block a determined governor’s path. As the only at-large elected official in the state, the governor not only commands the bully pulpit but appoints all the key executives — from attorney general to education commissioner — who might stand in his way. Moreover, his line-item budget veto is both powerful and precise, giving him the ability to strike whole clauses or decrease individual appropriations to the cent. The only thing the governor can’t do is raise spending.

Compare that to Washington's system, which has only gotten more sclerotic since Alexander Hamilton analyzed it this way in 1790.

Whoever considers the nature of our government with discernment will see that though obstacles and delays will frequently stand in the way of the adoption of good measures, yet when once adopted, they are likely to be stable and permanent. It will be far more difficult to undo than to do.

Christie is successful in part because he has a lot of room to move, and in part because he knows how to fill that room. Barack Obama's unsuccessful because he has less room and is often inept at filling it. That doesn't mean that Christie's success is repeatable in Obama's job.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.