N.J. Gov. Christie, vacationing during snowstorm, pushes back on criticism

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office is pushing back against complaints that both he and the lieutenant governor were vacationing during a blizzard that blanketed the state with snow.

The snowstorm paralyzed much of the Northeast on a busy holiday travel weekend but Christie (R), a darling of national Republicans, and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno were traveling in Florida's Disney World and Mexico, respectively. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) has been serving as acting governor in their absence and coordinated response efforts.

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But that move earned the scorn of state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D), who on Monday questioned "the purpose of the office" of lieutenant governor, which was created in 2005, saying it amounted to "wasted money" if both officials vacationed at the same time.

In a lengthy response Tuesday, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the criticism of the new governor was "overblown."

"Yes, this was a big snow, but we are a northeastern state, and we get plenty of snow, including heavy hits like this," he wrote in an e-mail to The Hill. "But the sky really is not falling, and we'll get through this just as we always have, notwithstanding complaints from opportunistic partisans like Lesniak."

Even though New Jersey's snow is a home-state concern, national observers have eyed the criticism of Christie, given his high national political profile.

Drewniak, who noted that Lesniak is "hurling his criticism from his vacation in Florida," pushed back against questions about Christie's management of the state. He stressed that Sweeney has been in close contact with senior administration officials, key agencies and Christie himself since the snow hit.

"All emergency services of the state are functioning as expected under the circumstances and as they normally would," he wrote.

He also poked holes in Lesniak's contention that the lieutenant governor's salary is a waste of money, pointing out that Guadagno is paid for her position as secretary of state.

The law requires that the lieutenant governor also hold another state role. Even though a constitutional amendment created the job of lieutenant governor in 2005, Guadagno is the first person to fill the role.

Drewniak also explained the lieutenant governor's job was "designed to prevent having a long-term, unelected interim governor while waiting for the next election," such as the scenario after Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) resigned after a sex scandal in 2004.

He noted that Democratic co-sponsors of the law have recently made that argument and that Sweeney has declined to criticize Christie's absence.

Elected in 2009 on a reform agenda, Christie vaulted into national political stardom in part through blunt, off-the-cuff speeches that have become online hits. His efforts to help raise funds for Republicans around the country in 2010 prompted speculation he could run for president, an office he says he is not interested in seeking in 2012. 

Christie's popularity in New Jersey slipped five points in a Quinnipiac poll released this month, after a spat over nominating Supreme Court judges and his decision to cancel a long-planned rail tunnel, prompting concerns about his handling of state business and his immediate political future.

Christie also received heat after his state lost out on $400 million in federal "Race to the Top" education funding due to a clerical error. The incident led Christie to fire his education commissioner


—The headline on this post was updated at 12:53 p.m.