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Elise Patkotak: What's routine in Jersey is scandal in the heartland

Elise Patkotak

As a Jersey girl by origin, I simply can't let the fiasco of blatantly idiotic political retribution currently happening in my old home state go by without at least a cursory node to the brilliance that is Jersey politics. I have always felt a debt of gratitude to my childhood state for preparing me for whatever Alaska politics threw at me. After New Jersey, it's hard to be impressed by others.

The simple truth is that when all else fails, New Jersey politicians manage to keep the state in the headlines. For those who wonder how the characters on Boardwalk Empire or American Hustle could possibly be real, I present to you Jersey's political reality. Makes those shows look tame by comparison, doubly so when you stop to consider these people are not actors but real politicians and their minions.

Growing up, my mother had one simple piece of advice for me about politics. Never, she told me with a stern look, never declare yourself for any one political party. That way, she claimed, led to madness and unemployment. This statement was based on the fact that it was her dream that I would get a government job and always have job security, health care and a pension. But, if I declared for a political party and that party was not in favor, I'd never get that dream job. In Atlantic City at that time, this meant that if you wanted a government job, you were either registered Republican or Independent no matter how you actually voted.

I like to think of that as the age of innocence in Jersey politics. Not that it was innocent. Anyone who has watched Boardwalk Empire know corrupt people, in the form of both political bullies and plain bullies, have run most of New Jersey for most of its existence. But it was the age of innocence in that a scandal such as the one currently enveloping the state would never have happened.

A brief recap of the current imbroglio in Jersey - the mayor of a small town with access lanes to the busiest bridge in the world refused to endorse Governor Chris Christie's run for re-election. According to Christie, unbeknownst to him staff took it upon themselves to close down all but one access lane to that bridge. This caused the kind of traffic jam that even listening to NPR can't help. This was all discovered through an e-mail trail.

Back in the day, you would have never made it out of neighborhood politics if you were wont to leave written evidence anywhere. And the minute the questions started and it was clear they weren't going away, someone would have drawn the short straw and been instructed to fall on their sword and take full blame for the situation. Finally, the people being investigated would have overseen any investigation into corruption, payback or bribes. And this all presupposes the newspaper in question would have been allowed to even investigate the situation in the first place.

The sight of Chris Christie spending two hours in a press conference pleading total ignorance of all that happened was a bit disconcerting. He doesn't strike me as the kind of boss whose staff would go off on their own to do things without fearing his wrath. He also seemed compelled to explain that he's not a bully. Now this might seem a bit incongruous to non-Jerseyites. But to people in Jersey, he's just a Jersey boy acting like Jersey boys act. Florida may have strong stand your ground laws. Jersey doesn't need them. It's built into the DNA of every Jersey male.

Payback is a time-honored tradition in New Jersey politics. We've gone from the days when bloody beatings exemplified this truth to the days when the traffic jam from hell suffices. This is probably why Chris Christie doesn't stand a chance of gaining the 2016 Republican presidential nomination no matter how much weight he loses and how many hours he spends in the gym.

West of the Mississippi, actions taken for granted east of that river are perceived by the as aggressive bullying. Ask Rudy Giuliani how well being the tough 9/11 major translated into national success as a candidate. It's an act that simply doesn't cut it in America's great middle.

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.



By ELISE PATKOTAK