Chris Christie’s Tesla Problem: How it Could Impact 2016 Race

Mar 13, 2014 1:20pm

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, self-declared enemy of all “sacred cows,” is being accused of protecting the golden calf of the automobile industry.

Startup electric car company Tesla is taking Christie to task for a new rule that would make buying those cars in New Jersey impossible starting next month.

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(Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

This week, the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission approved a rule that prevents car manufacturers from selling directly to their customers — which was also backed by traditional automobile retailers who presently serve as a middle man between car manufacturers and consumers.

According to Tesla, it’s a classic example of government officials protecting entrenched special interests, in this case traditional car dealer franchises, at the expense of consumers who don’t have access to newer technology at lower prices.

Christie’s office has said that they told Tesla from the beginning that the dispute needs to be resolved in the legislature.

“Since Tesla first began operating in New Jersey one year ago, it was made clear that the company would need to engage the Legislature on a bill to establish their new direct-sales operations under New Jersey law,” Christie’s spokesman Kevin Roberts said. ”This administration does not find it appropriate to unilaterally change the way cars are sold in New Jersey without legislation and Tesla has been aware of this position since the beginning.”

And New Jersey also isn’t alone on this one. Similar bans on direct car sales to consumers are in place in Texas and Arizona.

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(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If Christie wants to not only appeal to small government Republicans but also libertarian-minded young people ahead of a 2016 presidential run, applying his famous chutzpah to this issue might be a place to start.

That’s the argument former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made when he blasted the rule and suggested that Christie faces a critical moment to defend his conservative credentials.

“There is no rational justification for the state to intervene and impose an obsolete business model on a 21st century startup. But the car dealers want to co-opt the law to protect their profits,” Gingrich wrote in a message emailed to his supporters. “In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie now faces an important choice about whether to passively defend the past or to actively fight for the future.”

All this comes at a time when Republicans from Sen. Rand Paul to Sen. Marco Rubio are making a play for younger voters who are more likely to identify with an argument against big government when it comes to new disruptive technology that they view as improving their lives.

These voters oppose big government when it prevents products like Uber’s car-on-demand livery service from operating, but they might tune out when Republicans start talking about lowering taxes for the rich.

At a policy event hosted at Google’s Washington, D.C. office on Monday, Rubio made the case that these types of young voters are within reach to Republicans, if they get their message right.

“Well, the Miami-Dade commission didn’t allow Uber to come in because of regulations,” Rubio said. “So for the first time, I see young people that potentially might be friendly to more government involvement in our economy arguing against regulatory impediments to an existing business — in this case, government crowding them out.”

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