Asbury Park Press

Revenge Is Not The Way To Govern

Asbury Park Press — January 2, 2017

By John Wisniewski

When revenge is the purpose of proposed legislation, our state government has lost its way.

Unfortunately, revenge was exactly the purpose of Gov. Chris Christie's Electronic Publication of Legal Notices Act. But we named it for what it was: revenge against New Jersey's newspaper industry.

The legislation would have been a blow to a functioning free press in New Jersey. It could have cost the state an estimated 300 newspaper jobs and put numerous small town publications in financial jeopardy.

The measure would have ended a requirement for legal ads to be published in New Jersey's newspapers. Gov. Christie fraudulently claimed that this bill would save the public $80 million. When challenged, his administration admitted the figure was made up by an "internal" sampling of daily newspapers.

Christie also criticized — via Twitter — what he called the subsidizing of newspapers by the government. Putting aside the mind-boggling $7.4 billion in corporate welfare this governor has doled to his cronies since he took office, the truth is almost 80 percent of newspaper revenue from public notices come from private companies and banks publishing notices as required by state law.

So if the legislation has little merit, what was it all about? Payback, pure and simple. Payback from a bully governor angry with the press for holding him accountable for his policies and outrageous actions. Christie thought he could silence the press by damaging them financially.

The Asbury Park Press, The Record, the Star-Ledger and numerous other newspapers across New Jersey took the governor to task for his responsibility in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, known as Bridgegate. They then covered his spectacular fall from rising Republican star to failed presidential candidate to his ignominious dismissal from Donald Trump's transition team. In short, the press did its job — and the one thing Christie cannot tolerate is criticism.

In addition to the revenge bill, Christie was also pushing self-serving legislation to change our ethics laws and allow him to profit from a book deal while in still office. That is a subject for another day, but it does raise the question of the critical issues New Jersey's legislature should have been addressing.

Fortunately, thousands of New Jerseyans mobilized by flooding legislators with phone calls in opposition, helping us to defy the governor and party bosses. Progressive forces like New Jersey Citizen Action alongside labor and environmental movements also spoke loudly in opposition.

What we should have been debating at year-end was a pay raise for New Jersey's working men and women. We should have overridden the governor's vetoes of equal pay legislation and increasing our minimum wage to $15 per hour.

We should also have finished the Bridgegate investigation by putting the governor under oath and demanding he disclose what he knew and when he knew it. The people of New Jersey deserve to know the truth about Christie's actions and they deserve justice for any, and all, abuses of power.

Even after his revenge bill was defeated, Christie pledged to reintroduce the legislation and make it one of his top priorities in 2017. I will vigorously oppose the bill's reintroduction and work to lead our state in a new direction.

"The best revenge is not to be like your enemy," wrote a wise Roman philosopher. So let us not follow the vindictive direction being set by our bitter lame-duck governor.

Let's tackle the real issues and make New Jersey work for everyone, not just the Wall Street special interests and billionaire class. Let's establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage, ensure women equal pay for equal work, improve our educational system and rebuild our roads and bridges.

Let's cast aside the corrupt, transactional politics practiced for years by the party bosses in Trenton and begin to transform our politics into something better.

With the right leadership, nothing is impossible.

John Wisniewski is a Democratic assemblyman from Middlesex County and a candidate for governor.

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