- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The relationship between Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature has had its highs and lows since the Republican took office in 2010.

Now, little more than a week after the U.S. attorney charged two former Christie allies with orchestrating lane closures at the George Washington Bridge for political purposes, the scandal has cemented Democrats’ skepticism of the governor. Some Republicans also are openly criticizing him, though many focus on how his support has helped their constituents.

Lawmakers from both parties say the scandal could have some political effect in November but don’t think it will play into budget negotiations underway.

“When was it easy to work with the governor?” asked Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who co-chaired the panel investigating the scandal. “When you disagreed with him you were and have always been attacked.”

There has been some change, though. The governor’s support has declined in public opinion polls in recent weeks, and Democrats in the Assembly sense a chance to pad their majority. They control 48 of 80 seats.

“I think that anyone who doesn’t see blood in the water is perhaps foolish and perhaps blind,” said Democratic Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who chairs the influential budget committee.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, though, called the criticism a “sideshow” and says Democrats would be bashing the governor even if the scandal had not occurred. Republican state Sen. Steve Oroho also had praise for Christie, saying he helped lower costs on schools in his rural district.

Not all Republicans, though, give Christie glowing reviews.

Sen. Michael Doherty is angry at the governor over what he sees as a political scheme to gain the endorsement of Democratic mayors gone awry.

“The governor has nobody to blame but himself,” Doherty said, adding he thought the governor should have campaigned more for Republicans in the 2013 election.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll said he was not happy with Christie for vetoing a bill to overhaul the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“His philosophy has always been we should work together as a party when we can,” he said. “But there will be times when we will disagree.”

Bramnick, though, is embracing Christie. The governor will attend a fundraiser at Bramnick’s house next month, the legislator said, adding that there is no Assembly Republican who wouldn’t want the governor’s campaign help.

Christie sees the relationship between his office and lawmakers as strong. Spokeswoman Nicole Sizemore pointed to new laws, such as an overhaul of the bail system and economic development measures, as signs of that.

Christie and the Legislature are still finding common ground. Last week, the governor signed 19 new bills into law. The measures include a new law banning the practice known as “coal rolling” - or retrofitting vehicles’ exhausts or smokestacks so they emit darker smoke. The new law was lauded by environmental groups, usually critical of Christie.

Legislators in both parties say that despite the friction they have seen no evidence the scandal is affecting budget talks.

Christie and lawmakers have to resolve their differences by June 30, when the fiscal year ends and the current budget lapses.


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