As reported by nj.com, leaked audio from Governor Chris Christie’s closed-door speech to conservative donors in Colorado gives new details on the heated final days in the battle to cut public employee benefits. In particular, Christie said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver personally asked him for Republican support to stay in power if dissident Democrats tried to oust her to stop the cuts. The Christie delivered, asking surprised members of his own party to cross the aisle and back Oliver if there was a coup attempt.
A coup never materialized, and public employee benefits were cut in June, one of the signature accomplishments of Christie’s administration so far. But, the episode raised questions about whether Oliver will have enough support to stay on as speaker after two-year term ends in January.
A transcript of the audio was posted online by a reporter from the magazine Mother Jones. The recording was made during an event hosted by the Koch brothers, two wealthy conservatives, on June 26, three days after the Assembly approved benefit cuts and two days before Christie signed the bill. The governor did not disclose that he left the state to attend the event.
Christie confirmed the account during an unrelated press conference in Atlantic City yesterday. Oliver, however, said in no uncertain terms that the conversation with Christie never happened. “Governor Christie is making an assertion that I called him and asked him for his help in retaining my speakership? Governor Christie is more mentally deranged than some of us though. Never happened,” she said.
Christie said Oliver told him: “I want to post the bill but I think when I go on the floor, my own party’s going to take a run at me to remove me as speaker. So I can’t post the bill.” Then she added, according to Christie: “I think the only way I survive is if the 33 Republicans in the chamber will agree to vote for me for speaker. Can you work it out?”
The governor then went to talk to Republican Assembly members, who were in a closed-door caucus meeting. Christie said he told them: “Probably for the only time in my governorship I’m going to actually ask you to vote for a Democrat…So if they take a run at her on the floor, I need all of you to vote for her for speaker.”
Christie said Republicans were surprised, but the governor insisted keeping Oliver in power was necessary to get the bill passed. “Are you with me or aren’t you?” Christie recalled asking. “All 33 of them raised their hands and said they were with me.”
Christie said he went back to his office and called Oliver. “You just got 33 new votes,” he said he told her. Oliver responded, “Well, you just got yourself a bill.” The bill passed the Assembly on June 23.