New Jersey Chris Christie at a news conference Tuesday. (Mel Evans/Associated Press) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a news conference Tuesday. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

By calling for a special election to fill the vacancy left by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made the most of an uncomfortable situation. Like any politician, Christie did what was best for him. But it also has the virtue of being the right thing to do.

Gubernatorial appointments of vacated Senate seats are undemocratic. In the past, we’ve seen those political perches bandied about by governors like they were their personal property. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich went so far as to try to sell his appointment of the seat once held by President Obama. He’s now in jail. Under New Jersey law, Christie could have appointed an interim senator to serve until an election in 2014. But he thought better of it.

“I firmly believe that the decisions that need to be made in Washington are too great to be determined by an appointee for a period of eighteen months,” Christie said in his opening statement. “We must allow our citizens to have their say over who will represent them in the Senate for the majority of the next year and a half. The people of New Jersey deserve to have that voice.”

Of course this principled position solves a couple of political problems for the governor. By having a special election two weeks before he faces the voters in his own reelection, Christie ensures that he won’t have to contend with energized Democratic Party voters who presumably would vote for the party’s gubernatorial candidate after casting a ballot for Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is already running for the Senate seat.

Insisting on a special election instead of a long-serving interim appointee frees him from making a selection that almost assuredly would not be acceptable to the cantankerous conservatives who have instilled fear and loathing up and down the GOP leadership ladder. It also saves his bipartisan reputation, which the red governor of a blue state needs to maintain if he is to translate his 32 percent lead over his Democratic opponent into votes.

What’s not making budget-conscious conservatives or even Garden State Democrats happy at the outset is the estimated $24 million total price tag for the Aug. 13 primary and Oct. 16 general election. It took a nanosecond for Democrats to highlight that tidy sum. But I have to agree with Christie’s rationale on this one.

“In the end,” he said, “the costs associated with having a special primary and general election in my mind cannot be measured against the value of having an elected representative in the United States Senate.” During the Q&A with the press he said bluntly, “I don’t know what the costs are and quite frankly I don’t care.” Considering just a month ago he vetoed an early-voting bill citing its $25 million first-year expense, that’s a tad cavalier, a bit ironic and rather self-serving. But we knew that already.

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