Assembly Minority Leader weighs in on issues affecting the state

As the state headed toward a government shutdown, one lawmaker called legislative leaders dueling news conferences childish and proposed fining Senate and Assembly members $250 a day until they had a budget deal. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick joins Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

Aron: Jon Bramnick, thanks for coming in.

Bramnick: Good to be here.

Aron: We’re a week and a day away from the shutdown. I got the sense that you were embarrassed by the shutdown.

Bramnick: Oh absolutely. Well, you put everybody in a room and let people talk to each other, you’ll find a compromise. But these separate press conferences and people being mad at each other – and this is basically within the Democratic party. I mean Steve Sweeney and Vincent Prieto, I like both of them, but both of them really weren’t sitting down with Bob Marino or anybody else and solving the problem. That’s why I presented a bill for $250 a day for legislators who can’t do a budget by the end of June.

Aron: A fine of $250 per day on each legislator?

Bramnick: Yeah. You have some skin in the game and maybe you’ll show up and you won’t leave. The biggest problem we have in Trenton and in this country is people aren’t sitting in the room and talking to each other. And I have a bill that actually requires that. You must be together and you must try to solve the problem, it’s not just not a contest of egos.

Aron: One could say it wasn’t just two stubborn men, it was three stubborn men. The governor wouldn’t sign a budget until there was a Horizon bill passed.

Bramnick: But he never got a budget. He never got a budget. But eventually, the Legislature presented a bill and a budget to the governor. It was the Democrats that couldn’t get along, if you recall, it was like, in the Assembly it was split 25-27. So, if you’re going to be in charge, then sit down and talk to each other. And I don’t think, with all due respect to my friends across the aisle, they sat in the same room and fixed it.

Aron: I want to get back to that, but was there any winner among Christie, Sweeney, Prieto?

Bramnick: The only winner was, after three days, there was a compromise. That means the people of the state of New Jersey had to wait three days to become the winners. The compromise was perfect. Everybody got something and that’s what I’m talking about. So, I don’t think legislators or the governor actually won, but I think we all learned a lesson: don’t leave Trenton. People were leaving Trenton, and they weren’t talking to each other.

Aron: We have some sound from the Assembly floor the night that everything got resolved, of you. Let’s play it.

Bramnick: We should never shut this state down again. We need to put in place safeguards that protect the people of this state so we don’t have a shutdown. But in the end, you were willing to talk to people and compromise and I salute you for doing that. We may not agree in the end product, but we agree that we can talk, we can compromise and we can discuss things. Thank you Mr. Speaker.

Aron: You said we need to put some safeguards in place. Like what, a $250 day fine?

Bramnick: That’s one. And guess what? Nobody leaves Trenton. Nobody – you have to stay in a hotel, you start at six in the morning, and you leave at one at night, like a jury in a criminal jury box. They stay, and they stay at the scene. And you get into the same room – the same problem we have in Washington. Same room, maybe you bring in a mediator, if we can’t get along – I don’t want to pay for a mediator – a volunteer mediator to come down and sit, because it gets very bad between people because, in my judgement, of egos. And you know because you’ve had better inside information than I do.

Aron: No, I don’t think so. The resolution happened on the day that the beach photos of the governor appeared in the Star Ledger. Did that move the governor off the spot he was frozen on, do you think? Did that play a role in the resolution?

Bramnick: No, because I think President Marino of Horizon came down, and Vinny Prieto who said I’m not moving any Horizon bill whatsoever moved a bill, that was the game changer. And it was a different bill than what the governor wanted or asked. I think that’s what the game changer was.

Aron: What did you think when you first saw those photographs?

Bramnick: Well, I don’t think that’s good public relations for the governor. He explained himself, you know obviously I like the governor, obviously it’s not the best public relations plan I’ve ever seen.

Aron: A poll came out yesterday – Monmouth poll, the governor’s approval rating stuck at 15 percent as it was in a Quinnipiac poll, but one of the sub-numbers that jumped out at most people was 55 percent of people say New Jersey is worse off because of Gov. Christie’s time in office. Fifteen percent say it’s better off, 28 percent say it’s about the same. What do you say about numbers like that?

Bramnick: Well, when you’re under the microscope – first, Bridgegate, that went on for a year or two where he was under the microscope and was kind of accused of being involved. Then of course he ran for president, he wasn’t here – despite the fact that somebody has to run for president and governors do it all the time. So, basically the optics there, and also the press was not a big fan of the governor. So when you’re under the gun every night on MSNBC and they’re holding you up as a criminal and then you run for president and you get beat up on the campaign trail, that’s difficult to come back from that. But when you look at his policies, he’s the first one who changed tenure – he did tenure reform – the first one who put a cap on property taxes, the first one to change interest arbitration. Those were impossible before he came down and someday, when you get some governor who’s raising taxes, you’ll go, ‘where’s Chris Christie to stop all this?’ But I understand the public relations nightmare he went through and I think that made it very difficult for him.

Aron: During the shutdown, the Assembly Minority Office sent out a photograph of all the Republican members of the Assembly in their seats, ready to go, and the other side of the room was completely empty. The Democrats were in caucus, fighting with one another. The Democratic party is pretty divided, it seems, in Trenton. The divide isn’t ideological, is it geographical? Where is the fault line in the opposite party?

Bramnick: I try to stay away from the family dispute on the Democratic side because I have to work with, let’s say, both sides within the Democratic party. When I say both sides, there was a pro-Vinny Prieto group, and there was an anti-Vinny Prieto group. Now I’m not going to identify who’s who, but there were people with the speaker and against the speaker. I’m not getting into that fight, because there are bills I have to work with both, but there is – you know that because people sign letters in favor of keeping Vinny and people sign letters in favor of [Craig] Coughlin. The fight was open and clear. So, but I’m not going to get into their fight because that’s a big mistake. I want to end the fighting, not create more animosity.

Aron: The governor has spent part of yesterday and today, he will again, being a sports radio talk-guy on WFAN in New York. Phil Murphy tweeted about that in the past 24 hours: ‘I hope WFAN660 callers ask Gov. Christie why he won’t focus on his job as New Jersey’s governor, especially on day one of the summer of hell.’ Shouldn’t the governor be at the State House in Trenton, and not on New York radio?

Bramnick: Well he does that, I think that’s his passion. Everyone has one, some people play golf, like President Obama did, some people play basketball, President Bush played golf, he’s not a golfer. So, that’s his fun thing, being on the radio like that. But, look, whatever you do today, you’re going to be criticized, but how’s that different than somebody playing golf in the morning?

Aron: I don’t know. Jon Bramnick, thanks very much.

Bramnick: Thank you.