When the Republican governor of your state defends his actions by claiming he’s only following the law — then challenges those who don’t like it to change the law — there’s really only one thing for it: call his bluff.
That’s exactly what’s happened in New Jersey, where State Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), has sponsored a bill that would reverse a recent regulatory change to make it impossible for electric car automaker Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] to sell directly to customers in the Garden State.
A Nissan LEAF owner, Eustace introduced Assembly Bill A2986 at the end of last week, less than three days after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie furiously defended the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission for voting in a regulatory change designed to protect the interest of powerful auto dealer associations and stifle Tesla’s sales.
Voted in on March 11, the new regulation from the NJMVC not only made it impossible for Tesla to sell direct to customers from its Tesla Stores in New Jersey from April 1, but it also made it impossible for Tesla to open any new stores in the state. As of April 1, all existing Tesla Stores in the Garden State will become Tesla Galleries, where staff will be able to educate visitors on electric cars but not sell cars direct to customers.
Speaking last week, Christie said the NJMVC and his administration were only following existing New Jersey law, which mandates all new cars must be sold through third party, franchised dealers. “If Tesla wants to change [it] they can go to the 120 members of the state legislature and change the law,” Christie said at a press conference last week.
Eustace, who was elected to the New Jersey legislature in 2011 after serving four years at the major of Maywood, NJ, three years as Maywood’s borough council president, and a further decade serving on the same council, disagrees.
“What we should be doing is supporting American entrepreneurs and American businesses,” he said.
Electric car exception?
As with any new bill, Assembly Bill A2986 will have to make its way through the legislative system before being voted on. With supporters and opponents of Tesla in the legislature along with pro-and anti-Christie sentiment, this particular bill is in for a bumpy ride.
Even if Eustace’s bill hits a roadblock however, another bill that could help Tesla– sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) — is making its way through the state Senate. Senate Bill S927, which introduces dealer-backed legislation to favor car dealerships in their dealings with automakers, is designed to protect the interests of franchised dealerships above automakers.
But in the interests of reaching the Presidential goal of 1 million plug-in vehicles on the road by 2018, Lesniak says he will introduce an amendment designed to allow Tesla — and other electric automakers — to sell electric cars directly to customers until the number of electric cars on the road hit critical mass.
Alongside the political scandals already being investigated involving New Jersey’s Republican Governor Christie and his administration, the decision of the NJMVC — all of whom were admitted to office at the personal decision of Governor Christie — has even caused former Christie donors to rethink their allegiances.
As Jenna Portnoy of The Star Ledger reports, Businessman Michael Granoff, who divides his time between New Jersey and Israel, donated $3,800 towards Governor Christie’s previous re-election campaign, despite more usually contributing to the Democratic party.
Granoff’s New York-based investment group Maniv Energy was the first company to invest back in 2007 in a then unknown Israeli electric car company called Better Place. Despite Better Place’s recent bankruptcy, Granoff remains a keen supporter of electric cars.
He even showed Gov. Christie around Better Place’s Tel Aviv headquarters two years ago on a trip to Israel.
For Granoff, Christie’s behavior is untenable. “I felt then and I felt right up until now that he understood how important that this could be,” he said in an interview from Israel. “It’s clear to me there has been a change of heart somewhere here along the way. I was stunned and saddened.”
As with other legislative and regulatory battles being fought across the U.S. between Tesla Motors and auto-dealer-backed officials, we’ll keep you abreast of the latest news on the situation in New Jersey, so be sure to add us to your bookmarks.
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