In speech about New Jersey, Chris Christie talks about the country – Politico
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reflected Tuesday during his State of the State address on a conversation he had last year with an 82-year-old woman on a rope line in Vero Beach, Florida. That’s 1,100 miles from Trenton, where he was speaking to a joint session of the state legislature.
“She grabbed my hand and asked me a simple, but powerful question,” he said. “‘What’s happened to our country? We used to control events. Now events control us.’”
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As chairman of the Republican Governors Association this past election cycle, Christie took heat in New Jersey for spending more than 150 days – or 40 percent of his time – outside the state. But Christie, who is gearing up for a likely presidential bid, addressed much of his 43-minute speech Tuesday toward a national audience, and he made no apologies for all his time on the road.
He even referred to trips he took to Illinois, Maryland, Kansas, Colorado, Maine and Arkansas.
“You might have heard about that,” Christie said to laughter. “I traveled the country this past year.”
Christie spoke about “a sense of drift” that pervades the whole country. “We need to address this anxiety head on,” he declared.
“Renewal” was the overarching theme of the speech — he used the word at least a dozen times. “I believe in a New Jersey renewal which can help lead to an American renewal,” he said.
Christie has been overshadowed in recent weeks by Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush’s moves toward presidential campaigns, efforts that could poach from his fundraising network and erode his establishment base of support.
Eager to be in the presidential conversation, Christie spoke like someone who already is a federal candidate.
Take this passage, for instance: “America’s leadership in the world is called into question because of a pattern of indecision and inconsistency. During this time of uncertainty it seems our leaders in Washington would rather stoke division for their own political gain. And this culture of divisiveness and distrust has seeped into our communities and our neighborhoods.”
The appeal to a national audience bothered local reporters. Several complained on Twitter that national correspondents from the networks and major national newspapers were invited to an off-the-record meeting ahead of the annual speech, but that they were excluded.
A poll released Tuesday morning by Fairleigh Dickinson University put Christie’s approval rating at 39 percent, down from 48 percent one year ago. The poll found that a 53-percent majority of registered voters believe that Christie cares more about running for president than being governor. Just one-third said the latter. Nearly three-quarters of those polled agreed that Christie’s decisions as governor are influenced to some degree by his desire to be president.
Christie offered a full-throated defense of his mixed economic record in New Jersey, but then he argued that many of the state’s problems are structural and thus beyond his control. He touted the pension reform bill that passed a few years ago as a signature achievement, but then he explained that the problem was not really solved and called for more action to fix the “sins of the past.”
He took credit for several businesses that moved jobs into the state during the past year, but then he lamented Mercedes Benz fleeing the state because it is cheaper to do business in Georgia.
“It is you and only you, the state legislature, who can lower taxes further and make New Jersey more prosperous for our middle-class families and their children,” he told the assembled lawmakers.
Christie noted that economic growth is low nationwide by post-war recovery standards. “America’s economy is growing, but it is not growing enough,” he said. “New Jersey’s economy is growing, but it is not growing enough. Last week’s jobs report was good, but real wages declined.”
Some have speculated that Christie could step down as governor to run for president. There are pay-to-play rules that could hamper fundraising if he continues to hold office. But the governor declared firmly that he will be back at the podium one year from now. He joked when Democrats did not applaud.
“I’ll be standing here in one year,” he reiterated, to laughs.
Christie repeatedly contrasted where the state was five years ago when he took office to where it is now. “The state of our state continues to get better,” he said at the top.
The governor did not mention the Bridgegate scandal that has dogged him, in which aides conspired to cause traffic jams on a major bridge.
Democrats publicly rip Christie over his economic stewardship. They note that the state’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times since Christie took office, and that the state’s debt load is at an all-time high of $78.4 billion. Meanwhile, job growth is below the national average and the unemployment rate remains above.
“Despite so much evidence of an improving New Jersey, it has become fashionable in some quarters to run down our state,” Christie said during his speech. “I get it: that’s politics.”
Christie is in a unique spot among the Republican governors considering presidential campaigns because Democrats dominate his state legislature. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all benefit from Republican-controlled legislatures happy to pass big-ticket reforms that they can run on in the primaries.
Christie tried to strike a delicate balance in view of the legislature he must deal with. He spoke of all they have and could accomplish “together” while pledging to again veto any income tax increase.
The governor presented himself as a conservative who wants smaller government, with fewer state employees and lower property taxes. “This administration believes today — and has always believed — that New Jersey and America will be a better place for middle-class families by shrinking the size of government,” he said.
Christie also nodded to social conservatives by speaking at length about his support for better drug treatment programs. He spoke in moralistic terms, saying that he thinks it borders on being “a sin” to throw people in jail without treating them for their underlying addiction.
“Every life,” Christie said, “is an individual gift from God and no life is disposable.”