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Can John Kasich bridge Chris Christie crisis scandal?

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When Ohio Gov. John Kasich's top communicators were asked Thursday morning by email whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie should remain chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, in light of the news that he allegedly exacted political revenge against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, NJ for not endorsing him last year when he rolled to an easy 22-point win over his Democratic challenger, they were as non-responsive as the normally talkative Christie was yesterday, when subpoenaed emails made public revealed Christie's deputy chief of staff advised another Christie appointee sitting on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

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In a statement from Gov. Christie today he said, "What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."

Gov. Christie, who campaigned in Ohio in 2010 for then citizen-John Kasich, is widely expected to pursue a run for the White House in 2016 that some wanted him to act on in 2012, when he instead endorsed and campaigned for Mitt Romney, the loser, while simultaneously becoming buddies with President Obama, who left his campaign the week before Election Day in early November to spend time in New Jersey, where Hurricane Sandy devastated many communities as it did in surrounding states including neighbor New York.

Some say the simpatico kindled between the tall, skinny president and the portly Tony Soprano understudy, as they strode together through devastated neighborhoods populated by people who had lost homes, livelihoods, maybe even loved ones and looked to federal and state government to make it all right again, augured well for Obama over Romney. The president got to show leadership through quick response and compassion, professional and personal character factors GOP campaign thinkers thought could sway voters away from Romney in the days leading up to the vote on Nov. 6.

For Christie, the huge weather disaster offered a chance to show that working with President Obama, maybe even compromising with him, wasn't the end of the world. It was, in fact, the beginning of rebuilding the famous Jersey Shore along which many impacted communities are located.

What Christie did, by cozying up to a seemingly beleaguered president the nation's top pollsters said would win, instead of facing off with an administration who controlled funding spigots that could help or hurt the recovery of his state over time as Republicans wanted him to do, did not endear him to the growing ranks of Tea Party-spirited Republicans who saw fraternizing with the enemy as proof the blue-state Christie wasn't a true conservative at hear, unlike the new breed of Republicans, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz or Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who in the spirit of Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo prefer to fight to the death than surrender.

Last Nov. 21 Gov. Christie was elected Chairman of the Republican Governors Association for the 2014 election cycle, with 36 governors' races, including John Kasich in Ohio, at stake. At the time, Gov. Christie said America was moving forward because GOP "comeback governors" like Kasich "are doing what Washington can’t: getting the big things done..." Leading with conviction, making tough decisions and getting the job done in the states, he said, was why he was honored to serve as RGA Chairman.

He promised candidates and governors like Kasich that he wouldn't let them down with resources needed to win in 2014. According to the RGA, $23.5 million was raised through the first half of 2013, a sum that brought cash on hand for the 2014 election cycle to more than $45 million.

RGA Executive Director Phil Cox called the pugnacious governor one of the GOP's strongest, most effective leaders. "In a critical year with 36 governor’s races, Republican governors welcome his leadership as Chairman of the RGA, and recognize that his record of accomplishment, broad political appeal, and tireless work ethic will be a tremendous asset in helping to win elections and advancing a message of growth, reform, and results."

When Gov. Kasich traveled to Scottsdale, AZ for the GOP governor's fest, the gift of gab each possesses, which has endeared them to many, helped them win many political battles and could convince some they are presidential timbre, garnered positive coverage then.

Today, after Gov. Christies' two hours of answering questions from reporters represents the start of weeks and months of investigations into him and his staff and the political-payback traffic jam they caused that may have resulted in one woman dying because the emergency vehicle she was in couldn't transport her to a medical facility fast enough, the words of help and promises each made to other has now decomposed into potent political fodder for Democrats, who leaped at the chance Thursday to bind the two together.

What neither of the governors who have actively courted rumors of their interest in occupying the White House in 2016 thought possible just a few months ago, that a fatal wound to one would bleed over to the next, is anything but a fantasy today.

"I’ll come to Ohio for John as frequently as he wants me to, and as frequently as I can, given the balance," Christie said in a published report at the time. Gov. Kasich, who when he worked for Lehman Brothers under Richard Fuld was agush with compliments for the famed Wall Street investment banking firm's leader until he then distanced himself from Fuld following the collapse of the firm in 2007 that toppled the house-of-cards mortgage loans scheme that triggered the Great Recession from which the nation, Ohio or New Jersey have successfully recovered from, was equally effusive about Christie last year.

"“Christie is going to do great out there. Are you kidding?” Kasich was reported saying. "Christie, he is like a force now. People want to be around him. He came out to Ohio during my last campaign, people just loved him. He said if you don’t elect this guy I am coming back here New Jersey style. They liked it."

Look-in-the-mirror celebrities like Gov. Kasich like other celebrities until that celebrity breaks bad, as it has now done with Gov. Christie. At the time, Gov. Kasich cooed about the Garden State governor's roaring celebrity. "In case you hadn't noticed, that's a big darn deal in America today," he was quoted saying, adding, "you all can’t get enough of him."

As for his relationship with Kasich, Christie said the two get along very well because their approaches to governing are similar. "We’re both very direct, we say what we believe, and we do so enthusiastically,” Christie reportedly said about Kasich.

Ohio Democrats who have their own daunting set of challenges to defeat Kasich this year, wondered aloud whether Gov. Kasich still thinks Christie should come to Ohio to campaign for him?

While Christie now has his hands full of negative press, including a zinger delivered today by Glen Beck, once the darling of Fox TV News who has since turned to the radio, who dubbed this scandal "Fat & Furious," Gov. Kasich should be asked why, if their governing styles are so similar, he hires people convicted of wrong doing when Christie told reporters he fires them?

Christie said when his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who sent the smoking gun email to Christie's appointee on the Port Authority containing the damning phrase "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," told him she didn't know anything about the bridge closing and how it came about, he fired a loyal staffer of five years who had worked her way inside his self-described "circle of trust" on the spot. He told reporters Thursday that he didn't ask her why she sent it, or who else may have known or was involved in it.

A month after Christie was elected RGA Chairman, his trusted campaign manager, Bill Stepien, was hired on by the RGA as an adviser on political operations and independent expenditures for a number of key governor’s races in 2014, presumably including that of Gov. Kasich in Ohio.

Phil Cox, RGA executive director, hired Stepien, saying, "Governor Christie’s historic landslide victory this past year proves Republicans can compete and win in any state ... With 36 governors’ races in 2014, Bill’s expertise and leadership will be critical to our efforts."

But when Stepien's name appeared in emails leaked to the press on Wednesday that documented a string of conversations between Christie allies that turned a hitherto local news story into a national scandal, Christie fired him. In one reported exchange with David Wildstein, another top figure Christie appointed to the Port Authority, Stepien called the mayor of Fort Lee an "idiot," CNN reported.

Before running Christie's 2013 campaign, Stepien was deputy chief of staff in Christie’s official office. In 2008, he was national field director for John McCain’s presidential campaign.

The emails inferred that Stepien was aware of the maneuvering that led to stalled traffic on the George Washington Bridge linking New Jersey to Manhattan. In December, Christie offered assurances that neither "he nor his staff knew anything about the process that led to bridge shutdown last fall."

Christie also asked Stepien to withdraw his services from the RGA. If he can't trust him, Christie said, he wouldn't ask anyone, including the RGA, to trust him.

Back in Ohio, Gov. Kasich has taken a different approach to staffing. In 2011, just a few months after his narrow Tea Party-inspired win over the incumbent Democratic governor, Kasich actively orchestrated a palace coup of Ohio Republican Party [ORP] Chairman Kevin DeWine after he managed an election year in which Republicans, including Kasich, won all statewide races and reclaimed the House of Representatives.

In his place, Gov. Kasich pushed ORP to hire Matt Borges, chief of staff to one-time Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, who resigned in disgrace following Borges' conviction on influence peddling charges that sent state contracts to a Cleveland stock broker who in return provided campaign cash that subsequently was laundered to benefit select GOP candidates.

While Borges, ORP Chairman since being elected last year, has had his conviction expunged, what he did and why he did it cannot be expunged from archived newspaper reports and people's memories.

Kasich told CGE that "everybody deserves a second chance," while declining to answer why DeWine, a former House Member who was groomed for the position by Bob Bennett, Ohio's most successful party chairman, didn't deserve the same consideration of a second chance, especially since his resume doesn't include a court conviction for using a government position that he used to trade his fiduciary responsibility for campaign cash for Republican candidates.

Gov. Christie, with the sudden explosion of this scandal whose final chapter is far from over, fired a long-time, loyal staffers from his inner circle of trust. Gov. Kasich, on the other hand, hired a seasoned trafficker in peddling political influence to join his inner circle of trust.

Lack of response from Kasich communicators, while not surprising given failure to respond to other important queries is routine, shows they are in a wait-and-see mode on whether Gov. Christie's scandal will bleed beyond New Jersey to Ohio or whether it can be contained in the Garden State.

Democrats and other third-party candidates, like Libertarian Party's Charlie Earl, may find focusing on corruption as a Kasich administration flaw more rewarding than trying to battle the reformer-governor on tax, job or education policies.

The news article Can John Kasich bridge Chris Christie crisis scandal? appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.

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