Gov. Christie and Colorado representative refuse to back down to incivil bullies

Civility in politics is important. You hear it a lot. I agree. It is ridiculous that elected leaders can’t even carry on a conversation with one another. To be honest, that is one of the things I like most about Gov. John Hickenlooper — he doesn’t have that angry glaze of partisanship that taints the eyes of so many high-ranking types these days.

Good for him. And there are others like him. Scott Tipton certainly comes to mind.

But inasmuch as civility matters, so does honesty. Like a burst of sunny skies and 70-degree temperatures in the depths of an otherwise blasé winter, unabashed candor from elected officials is so refreshing — yes, even when it offends. In a public square littered with politically correct pansies, it’s nice to see someone just call it like it is.

Witness Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey this week, and last week — OK, virtually every week. His most recent fit of candor came at the expense of a rabble-rousing law school student. Here is how The New York Times reported it:

“At a town-hall-style meeting last week, (a law student) questioned a plan to merge Rutgers’s Camden campus, where Mr. Brown studies, with Rowan University, formerly known as Glassboro State College. After a testy two-minute exchange, Mr. Christie called him an ‘idiot.’”

For a brief moment after the executive-sized tongue-lashing, it appeared Christie might have to soften, or even eat his tough talk. That’s because the person in Christie’s line of fire wasn’t just a law student — he was also a Green Beret and combat military veteran.

This is where most politicians immediately cave, issuing a “mea culpa.” But not Christie.

Back to the New York Times:

“The governor defended his remark on Monday, saying: ‘He acted like an idiot. He’s an idiot. I don’t have any regret about it at all.” Christie said he respected Brown’s eight years in the military, but that that “doesn’t give him the right to be a jerk.”

This is why America loves Chris Christie.

Petty name-calling is nuisance. Witnessing a politician with guts to push back against the mob is high delight.

Delight is the term I would also use to describe what I felt when I saw the Christie-style smack-down that Jefferson County Rep. Jim Kerr put on a belligerent union worker who, like the law student in New Jersey, was acting like a jerk in the public square.

Here is how Denver Post described the incident:

“Things got heated during a legislative hearing today on proposals to attempt the most sweeping changes to Colorado’s state personnel system in nearly a century. Kim Bodin, a nurse who works in corrections, spoke about the working conditions of state employees, who haven’t had raises in four years.

“Bodin, speaking to Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton, the committee’s chairman, added that she hoped Kerr, who has sponsored legislation in the past to add more non-PERA recipients to the pension fund’s board, wouldn’t take away her PERA benefits.

“I don’t have the authority to take PERA away from you,” Kerr said.

“I know that you don’t, but I do know that you have the desire,” Bodin replied.

Kerr was not amused and said Bodin had insulted him. The pair began talking over each other, though Bodin did apologize.

“Lady, shut it!” Kerr said, gaveling her down.

If Christie were in that hearing room, he would have given Kerr a high five. And for good reason. Bodin, apparently lacking any good arguments against a personnel-reform measure that is supported by numerous Democrats, including the governor, made an outrageous claim and a nasty attack.

The biggest threat to Bodin’s pension is the market turmoil four more years of President Obama could bring. She should save her scare tactics for the comment thread on Daily Kos.

Civility, in politics as in life, is a two-way street. Bodin and a New Jersey law student learned that the hard way this week when two normally nice guys turned the tables on the loud-mouthed name-callers who too often run roughshod in the political process.

Shouting “jerk” or “shut up” is, under many circumstances, a perfectly uncivil thing to do. But sometimes — just sometimes — it is just what the doctor ordered.

Josh Penry is the former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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