Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie publicly tried to set record straight about a recent vote made by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to ban Tesla from selling direct to customers in the Garden State.
Like a traffic cop enforcing speed limit or an member of the ATF busting an illegal gun store, Christie says he was just enforcing the law.
“I’m not pushing Tesla out; the state Legislature did,” Christie said at a public town hall meeting in South River yesterday. “They passed a law — which is still on the books — which says if you want to sell cars in this state, you must go through an authorized dealer.”
“Outside the law”
“My job is not to make the laws. It’s to enforce the laws,” he continued. “Tesla was operating and we continued to warn them that they were operating outside the law.”
Christie claims Tesla ignored all of New Jersey’s warnings that it was operating outside of the law, continuing to operate in the state as if nothing was wrong. Yet Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed last week in an official Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] Blog that the state of New Jersey and Governor Christie himself had promised to put Tesla’s future in the state to a vote in the elected state legislature.
Tesla’s counsel also maintains that Christie and his administration had mediated months of dialogue between the electric automaker, the state Motor Vehicle Commission and powerful auto dealer lobbyists in an attempt to come to a suitable resolution.
Yet on Tuesday last week, the NJMVC unanimously passed a rule requiring all new cars — electric or otherwise — to be sold exclusively through third-part franchised dealers, something Musk alleges was “a backroom deal with the Governor to circumvent the legsilative process and pass a regulation that is fundamentally contrary to the intent of the law.”
“Make a new law”
“I have no problem with Tesla selling directly to customer, except that it’s against the law in New Jersey,” Christie said. “If Tesla wants to change [it] they can go to the 120 members of the state legislature and change the law.”
The solution, he inferred, was for Tesla to lobby representatives for a new law.
“Put a bill on my desk,” he continued. “I’m fine for Tesla to operate in this state but I can’t let them operate against the law, and that’s the simple fact of it. All the other stuff that they’re saying ignores the simple fact what they were asking for was an exception from the law.”
“I’m not the King,” he said. “I don’t get to grant exceptions to the law,” reiterating his claim that the administration tried to warn Tesla it was breaking the law.
“If the law changes, I’m happy to enforce the new law and let Tesla operate here,” he added.
Just the sheriff?
Christie’s self-portrayal as the sheriff of a small western town with a band of dedicated deputies trying desperately to keep the world safe from the ne’er do wells entering from afar was well executed and smooth.
In the ninety seconds or so that Christie took to answer the question there was no hesitation, no confusion. He spoke with forceful clarity, regret at Tesla’s alleged misdemeanors, the air of a disappointed parent forced to punish a his wayward teenage child who stayed out past their curfew.
On its own, without any background into Christie, his administration or Tesla, it’s easy to see that ninety-second soundbyte as the testimony of troubled lawkeeper trying desperately to fend off wrongdoers with the meagre resources he has. If we were newcomers to Christie’s frontier town, we would find his testimony compelling.
Yet when you’ve lived in the town a while, and you know the sheriff and his deputies are already facing mounting suspicion for many of their own misdemeanors and abuse of power, it becomes harder to know who to trust.
Do you believe Christie? Was Tesla to blame? Did Christie give Tesla fair warning? Or is this just the latest in a long line of carefully-crafted public statements designed to offer a counter-narrative to what really happened?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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