Closed-door strategy

April 05, 2006

The Ehrlich administration has launched a groundbreaking new strategy for dealing with the General Assembly: Lock the doors and don't answer the phone.

Apparently, aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. kept the governor's legislative office closed before 5 p.m. last Friday to thwart the delivery of a batch of newly approved bills. The most notable was a measure - strongly opposed by utility companies - to restrict noxious emissions from coal-fired power plants. Legislative clerks had to slide the bills under the bolted door. No doubt the next step in this masterful gambit will be to move the governor's office to New Jersey with no forwarding address. Just let those pesky legislators try to find him then.

Unfortunately, this bit of low comedy has serious implications. If, as the governor's aides allege, the bills were not presented until this week, he can veto them late next Monday night - seconds before the 90-day session ends. That leaves lawmakers without sufficient time to cast override votes before midnight (unless, of course, a three-fifths majority chooses to extend the session or a majority petitions the governor for a special session to take up vetoes later this year).

Granted, political shenanigans are common enough in the State House, particularly as the legislative session races to its finish, but hiding behind closed doors is beyond the pale. As strategy, it falls somewhere between fainthearted and absurd. An assistant attorney general has ruled that lawmakers met their constitutional deadline of last Friday. Mr. Ehrlich would be better off signing the Healthy Air Act and showing voters he does not suffer his staff's foolishness - or air pollution - so gladly.

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