Gov. Chris Christie’s wall of Republican support in New Jersey is showing a crack after a handful of GOP lawmakers joined all Senate Democrats Thursday to vote for the first time to override his veto, and it could be a signal that his presidential ambitions are hurting his stature at home.
Legislators may have chosen to buck Christie now because he has spent so much time outside the state pursuing the presidency and is entering the last years of his second term as governor — on the border of lame duck territory, experts said Friday.
“The governor has checked out of the state,” said Seton Hall assistant political science professor Matthew Hale. “The three Republican defectors in this case were willing to risk the governor’s wrath because he has left the state.”
And the lawmakers’ vote Thursday to override Christie’s veto may not be the last.
“Obviously you address every issue as it comes up,” said Republican state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, who voted for the override. “I think in the future, if we strongly disagree with him I think you’ll probably see more of this.”
The Assembly must also vote to override the veto for it to take effect. That chamber has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill, which would require anyone who wants to expunge a mental health record in order to buy a gun vote to first notify law enforcement.
It wasn’t only Bateman, whose district includes liberal pockets in Princeton, who voted against Christie.
State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, who was a key part of Christie’s transition team in 2009 but who has since backed Jeb Bush for president, voted against Christie. Kyrillos said in a statement afterward politics did not factor into his decision.
Christie had previously declined to move forward a judge Bateman backed after he voted against the governor’s position. Bateman said voting against Christie took courage.
“When you go against him there’s a lot of pressure,” he said.
The override was a score for Democrats, who hinted at the political heft behind it.
“This is big in a lot of ways,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat who is considered a possible candidate for governor in 2017. “But it just shows that there are Republican colleagues that I think have had enough.”