On the eve of this weekend's winter meeting of the National Governors Association, the group's leaders offered encouragement to a besieged colleague, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
NGA chair Mary Fallin, R-Okla. and vice-chair John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., stopped well short of defending Christie during a private meeting with reporters Friday at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Washington. But the pair did offer broad empathy toward him as a fellow governor dealing with political issues in a state that's naturally at odds with Christie's party.
"All governors have issues they have to deal with whether you're Republican or Democrat," Fallin said. "It's not easy to lead," especially, she says, when "you have different factions within your state and across the nation."
Hickenlooper relayed that Christie's Bridgegate troubles have spawned jokes in his home state of Colorado, but acknowledged that he, as a center-left Democrat in a swing"“state, doesn't face quite the same political friction as Christie does as a Republican governor in a blue state. Hickenlooper says people have joked, "The traffic coming out of Boulder is really tough. Well, maybe Hickenlooper had a disagreement with one of the Republican commissioners of Boulder. Oh, well actually that's right, there are no Republican commissioners in Boulder."
Hickenlooper says people in Colorado make those kinds of jokes because the notion of political retribution is "just never considered" in his state, which he chalked up to regional differences in the way politicians traditionally operate in the northeast versus the west, differences which he says "have made [Christie's] job more difficult."
Fallin argued that Christie has been a "good leader." "He's proven this during Hurricane Sandy. He's taken on tough issues, and at times been pretty strong in his words and how he feels about things. But there are a lot of other governors that have done those same things as far as expressing their opinions, taking on tough issues, fighting the good fight to create change in their states."
Despite much chatter to the contrary, neither Hickenlooper nor Fallin says they have heard of any governor calling on Christie to resign as chair of the Republican Governors Association.
"I've never heard of any governor of any party say that," Hickenlooper said.
As for what will happen to Christie in the long run, Fallin emphasized the importance of taking the necessary time "to separate the facts from the politics."
For now, Fallin's advice to Christie is to focus on his job as governor. "Every time a governor goes through something like that you've just got to keep the focus on, as [former Mississippi Governor] Haley Barbour used to say, you've got to keep focusing on the main things, the main things, the main thing," Fallin said. "Keep up what you'd normally be doing as a governor, and don't get distracted by all this other stuff and this noise that's out there."