Will he, won’t he, will he, won’t he. First New Jersey Governor Chris Christie flirted with whether or not he would run for president. Now for months he’s been at it again, saying oh no, Mitt won’t choose him as his vice presidential candidate.
Christie says, so very coyly, he’s not interested and just wants to stay in the Garden State, “making sure that New Jersey continues to move in the right direction.” The state would, he asserts, “get off on the wrong track again if I go. So I’d rather stay.”
But Mitt’s reasons for steering clear of Christie as his pick, whatever the fundraising prowess this governor has, may have more to do with all the baggage that Christie carries in the form of his ties to, for example, New Jersey’s private halfway-house industry. The New York Times has carefully detailed Christie’s connections to a West Caldwell-located company, Community Education Centers, that holds extensive contracts to run a system of halfway houses in New Jersey. Just before Christie became governor in January of 2010, the company defaulted on its debt and considered declaring bankruptcy, a July 16th New York Times article says:
Since then, the state, while paying the company tens of millions of dollars a year for its services, has not closely examined Community Education’s financial standing or operations, according to the documents, former company executives and state officials.
If Community Education were to collapse, that could significantly disrupt New Jersey’s corrections system, and if the company remains financially hobbled, its halfway houses in New Jersey could continue to suffer.
Community Education receives about $71 million of the $105 million New Jersey allocates to run halfway houses. Thousands of inmates, who are leaving prison or on parole, pass through the company’s halfway houses, which are understaffed; workers receive minimal training and are paid little. Escapes, violence including rape and drug use are not at all uncommon.
Christie’s ties to the company run deep. He was a lobbyist for Communication Education in 2000 and 2001; the company’s senior vice president, William J. Palatucci, is his close friend, political advisor and former law partner; the son-in-law of the company’s chief executive, John J. Clancy, was hired as an assistant in the governor’s office soon after Christie was elected.
The Real Cost of an “Aggressive Expansion”
The reasons for Community Education’s financial straits arose from “aggressive expansion” attempts in states including Alabama and Texas; these have meant that the company has had to lower staff levels in its New Jersey facilities. Overall, Community Education received about $300 million annually from government contracts around the country in 2009 and 2010 but, due to debt burdens, the company only had about $13,702.02 in cash on hand in 2009. In 2010, Community Education received a $235 refinancing deal (at very steep interest rates, of as much as 15.25 percent). But the company’s finances have remained shaky.
After the New York Times‘s investigation about conditions at some of Community Education’s halfway houses (including Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton, New Jersey’s state capital), state legislators demanded that the industry be regulated with far more scrutiny. New Jersey’s state legislatures are controlled by Democrats who passed a measure requiring the Corrections Department to acquire more information from halfway-house providers.
So guess what Christie did.
He added a line-item veto that significantly weakened the requirements. “His aides said the measure was burdensome, but some lawmakers contended that he was trying to protect Mr. Palatucci, the company executive who is his close friend,” says the New York Times. One must ask: Only “trying”?
“Halfway-house-gate” suggests all too clearly why Christie just keeps batting his eyelashes about being Mitt’s running mate. Without him in New Jersey’s highest elected office (and Christie’s approval rating is high), the state would indeed have the opportunity to “get off the track” Christie has put it on, of directing Jersey taxpayers’ dollars into the pockets of certain people he knows.
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Photo by Donkey Hotey