N.J. Gov. Chris Christie becoming a national hero of GOP
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 11:26 PM
WILLIAMSPORT, PA. - You could describe him as a burly guy who has declared "I'm pretty fat" from a state better known for Tony Soprano and Snooki than its politicians. Or a man so fiery that he confronted a heckler at a recent event, wagged his finger in his face and said, "It's people who raise their voices and scream and yell like you who are dividing this country."
Or someone so reviled by teachers unions that representatives in New Jersey signed a memo that included a humorous reference to praying for his death.
But only a year into office, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also emerged as one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party, a blunt-talking governor who unabashedly attacks unions and Democratic groups, cuts spending, blocks tax increases and runs his relatively liberal state in a conservative mold.
Christie has grabbed the attention of some influential national Republicans who say his battles with New Jersey Democrats offer a model for taking on President Obama if they win control of one or both houses of Congress next week.
In Trenton, Christie has done what Republicans on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail are promising: to cut spending to reduce the budget deficit. And he has made the cuts in spite of Democrats' criticism that he is destroying popular and important programs.
This year, when New Jersey Democrats proposed a tax surcharge on income above $1 million, the state faced a possible government shutdown if Christie did not relent.
"I said: 'Listen, you can close down the government if you want, but if you do it, don't think I'm moving some cot into the governor's office,'" he said in Williamsport, where he was helping out Pennsylvania Republicans. "I'm going to get in those black suburbans, I'm going to go back to the governor's residence, I'm going to go upstairs, I'm going to order a pizza, I'm going to open a beer, and I'm going to watch the Mets." (His predecessor moved a cot into the governor's office during a government shutdown.)
He added, "so what happened? They sent me that tax increase, I vetoed it, immediately, within the first 30 seconds they handed it to me, I handed it right back to them. And then they passed my budget."
After a months-long fight, Democrats in New Jersey reluctantly agreed in June to a $29.3 billion budget, along the lines of what Christie had proposed, that included $800 million in cuts to education and eliminated or reduced the funding of dozens of programs and agencies.
Democrats sharply criticized Christie for not approving a tax increase that could have raised hundreds of millions of dollars. And the budget is hardly the conservative panacea that Christie has cast it as. The budget was balanced by deferring $3 billion the government was to pay into its state pension system and eliminated a tax rebate homeowners were supposed to receive.
But Republicans in Washington and nationally were nevertheless impressed with Christie's approach.
"He's doing what needs to done and he's just being extremely candid about it," said Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), one of the leading conservative voices in Congress. "He's taking on the structural problems and the entrenched interests that you have to take on if you're going to save our states, save our systems."