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Sure, Christie's team did wrong, but Jersey Dems are just as bad

By Lisa Camooso Miller
updated 1:40 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has come under fire for how his staff handled bridge delays.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has come under fire for how his staff handled bridge delays.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lisa Camooso Miller says Democrats are playing politics with New Jersey bridge scandal
  • Miller: Leading Democrats want to make Christie's downfall their legacy
  • Miller: Christie deserves our thanks, not scorn

Editor's note: Lisa Camooso Miller is a partner at Blueprint Communications based in the Washington, D.C., area. She is the former RNC communications director, worked for two New Jersey Republican governors and served as the political director for the New Jersey GOP.

(CNN) -- Governor of New Jersey? Who'd want THAT job?

It's a state where politics have long been considered a bloodsport, where corrupt politicians are as common as slices of pizza, where fights can quickly get personal, and where the top politician lives a life constantly on the edge.

It's a state whose politics have been awash in scandals for decades, particularly within its towns and communities. In the past 20 years, the state's biggest cultural exports have been a show about organized crime and "Jersey Shore" -- a show, as most New Jersey residents will be quick to tell you starred mostly New Yorkers.

But, in spite of this, New Jerseyans take great pride in their state and have taken great pride in their governor.

Lisa Camooso Miller
Lisa Camooso Miller

Before taking the state's highest office, Chris Christie toppled corrupt New Jersey mayors like they were dominoes, sending them to jail one after another. It was one of the most impressive demonstrations of good government in the state's history.

Borger: Is Chris Christie presidential?

As governor, he was lauded for his leadership and his outspokenness, and he was criticized by some in his own party for his praise of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy. But what never wavered was Christie's commitment to taking on the big issues.

So for many New Jerseyans, it's disappointing to see Christie now focused on answering for the actions of staff. What they did was wrong, but if you stop and look more closely, those attacking him most harshly clearly have their own agendas.

Take Democratic Sen. Loretta Weinberg. She'd love to make Christie's downfall her legacy.

Prior to this current drama, Weinberg is best known for being a victim of the Bernie Madoff scam, and then for drawing on a pension system to supplement her legislative salary. She and Christie have been battling for years, and she's seeing an opportunity for payback.

Gov. Christie's latest poll numbers
What's Next for Chris Christie?
Did Christie misuse Sandy relief aid?

Meanwhile, Democratic Assemblyman Jon Wisniewski, another Christie foe, is dying for a better position in leadership, even though he's deputy speaker, a powerful chairman and the new head of an investigative committee. He's certainly got an eye on the front office himself.

And Congressman Frank Pallone? He's only spent decades trying to run for statewide office. He'd love to take down Christie and ignore the fact that tourism ads are regular practice in New Jersey or any other state with an abundant coastline. The congressman certainly never complained about tourism ads during the 25 years he's represented a district that benefited from those very tourist dollars.

Ad firm head: We were asked about using Christie in ad campaign

It's not just New Jersey Democrats who are playing politics with the outspoken governor and possible candidate for president in 2016. Democrats on the national level are sending fundraising letters and raising money on the backs of the popular governor. They'll do whatever it takes to clear the field for Hillary Clinton.

But the most disappointing attacks are coming from the right wing of the Republican Party. After two crushing presidential elections and a paralyzed Congress, our party is badly in need of leadership. With a strong, outspoken candidate, Republicans could be right back on top. Demonstrated leadership is what will be needed in the big domestic fights that are right over the horizon, as well as those brewing overseas. Just don't let the candidate be from New Jersey.

They say that if everyone hates you, you must be doing something right.

Can Christie change the subject?

Last week Christie held an exhausting two-hour press conference to answer questions about Fort Lee. It could not have been easy to distance himself from his two-time campaign manager -- the man who would have run Christie's presidential campaign should he choose to run. Try to remember the last time you saw a politician separate himself from someone that powerful in the organization. I'm hard pressed to find one.

This week in his speech, Christie again addressed the issue. But what he did next took great leadership. He proposed longer school days. He proposed changes to the state tax code. He took on the pension system.

Christie still isn't afraid to do big things. The guy is gearing up for the next big fight. The fight for New Jersey. For now, anyway.

The long shadow of politics, both Democrat and Republican will keep hovering -- as will the national media -- waiting for his next move, eyeing his fundraising trips, watching for early signs of 2016 interest. None of which is going to deter the governor from doing what is necessary.

There's something to be said for a politician who makes tough decisions. What also should be said is, governor, thanks for taking the job.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lisa Camooso Miller.

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