Pushing judicial greed as a campaign issue

Gov. Christie, center right, attends the swearing in of Donna Gallucio as New Jersey Superior Court judge on Oct. 3. (JULIO CORTEZ/Associated Press)

Backed by nearly 60 Republican elected officials and legislative candidates, Gov. Christie staged a press conference Tuesday to highlight Republicans' staunch opposition a judge's recent ruling that the new Christie pension reform law doesn't apply to the judiciary. (Previous coverage, here).

Citing the state Constitution, a Mercer County judge ruled that a Hudson County judge's suit was accurate in stating that Christie's new law mandating higher pension payments for all public employees is inapplicable to judges because governors are not allowed to lower judges' salaries. Christie says that absurd -- "salaries" are different from benefits. 

If Christie loses the appeal on the judge's ruling, he wants the legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2012 so voters can force judges to be part of the system.

"The public should know what the people in the Legislature are going to do if they send them there two weeks from today," Christie said. 

Using this as a late campaign issue two weeks before every seat in the Democratic-controlled legislature is up for a vote does several things for the gov: It highlights his biggest legislative accomplishment -- a bipartisan pension and health benefits reform for public employees, which passed in June. It gives Republicans a campaign issue that plays with the public (do YOU get $2.3 million in retirement benefits after only contributing $59,300?).  

And it allows Christie to reiterate the cost savings from pension reform on a town-by-town basis (Mount Laurel Mayor Jim Keenan, a Republican Assembly candidate in the seventh district, said his town will save  $792,000 this year alone).

Speaking of Keenan, he and Assemblyman Vince Polistina (running for Democratic Sen. Jim Whelan's senate seat in Atlantic County) were the only Republicans (along with two legislative leaders) who had a chance to stand next to the governor and speak at the press conference. The rest stood behind Christie on bleachers. That's an indication of the interest Christie has in these two South Jersey races.

No one I've spoken to expects the Republicans to win control of either the senate or the assembly. But Christie has been involved in Jersey politics far longer than I, and he said this: "We're going to make history two weeks from today."

Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver -- whose leadership position is in peril because she voted with Christie on the reform law -- released this statement: “It’s just terrible that Gov. Christie has chosen to stomp his feet and play politics instead of focusing his attention on protecting taxpayers by overturning this ruling, which would be the quickest and best way to resolve this problem."