Dem Gov. O’Malley draws Christie into war of words over handling of state employees

Jon Ward Contributor
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Chris Christie has a new political antagonist.

A spat between the Republican New Jersey governor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat long thought to have designs on national office, spilled onto the national stage Friday.

O’Malley issued a statement through the Democratic Governors Association, of which he is the chairman, attacking Christie for having “avoided the tough choices all governors face” regarding severe budget shortfalls.

O’Malley said Christie has been “resorting to fiscal gimmicks like skipping pension payments, and putting New Jersey at a disadvantage for creating jobs and opportunity,” and said his own record was one of “making the tough fiscal decisions to make government smaller and smarter, so that we create jobs and improve our schools.”

Christie spokesman Mike Drewniak responded swiftly to The Daily Caller.

“Oh, I see. First O’Malley was just spouting off as a governor in another state who caves to special interests. Today, he’s spouting off as chairman of a partisan group which caves to special interests,” Drewniak said. “That says it all.”

The DGA statement said O’Malley, who was reelected to a second term in the Old Line State last fall, was responding to comments by Christie on the Fox Business Network on Thursday.

And Christie’s comments on Fox Thursday, it turns out, were in response to criticisms from O’Malley all the way back on Jan. 21. The Maryland Democrat’s appearance on WTOP radio appears to be where the escalating war of words originated.

In the WTOP interview, O’Malley said that Christie “delights in being abusive towards public employees.”

Christie has been more confrontational than any other politician on the national stage in confronting public employee unions and in rejecting demands that the pension and health care benefits they have been promised by past governors are not sustainable in light of the state’s massive deficits.

And the blunt way with which Christie has done so has upset many in the labor movement and on the left. But Christie has also been a pivotal figure in what has unquestionably been a public shift – among liberals as well as conservatives – in favor of questioning the level of taxpayer-funded benefits for government employees.

But O’Malley said on Jan. 21 that Christie has been “acting like all of the world’s problems are caused by the people that pick up our trash and work in public employee jobs.”

“Some of your more ideologically hardcore right-wing governors … are trying to take advantage of this time for their own ideological game, I suppose,” O’Malley added.

Christie was apparently asked about O’Malley’s comments nearly two weeks later on Thursday, and didn’t hold back in his response.

“I heard that pabulum Governor O’Malley was spewing down in Maryland,” Christie said. “He doesn’t know what he is talking about. Come to New Jersey and listen to what I am saying rather than listening to his Democratic consultants.”

“We are shining a bright light on what these things cost, and they cost a lot of money. Governor O’Malley calls that picking on public sector workers. I call that telling the people who are paying the bills the truth and not kissing up to every special interest you want to have on your side to get electoral success,” he said.

That led to O’Malley’s response Friday using his elevated platform, and expanded e-mail distribution list, as head of the DGA.

“Even in the face of this global economic recession and nearly $6.6 billion in cuts to state spending, Maryland has increased funding for our schools, which are ranked #1 in the nation, and held down college tuition for 4-straight years,” O’Malley boasted.

However, tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities is rising by three percent this year for the second year in a row.

And Christie has had to make some obviously difficult choices in balancing an $11 billion budget deficit in his first year.

But he and O’Malley are both cutting their current year budgets and are also both in the middle of trying to make changes to public employee benefit payouts. While Christie’s approach is generally considered to be more aggressive in style and substance, O’Malley is asking more in terms of contributions from both current and new state employees.

O’Malley’s missives, then, appear aimed more at drawing a stylistic contrast and at drafting a bit on Christie’s profile to gain some national press of his own. In other words, he’s punching up.

Drewniak said the Christie administration was “very comfortable with this administration’s path of fiscal responsibility and of refusing to cave to special interests. No amount of disinformation and distortion about that record from Governor O’Malley will change our course.”

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