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New Jersey Governor Defies Political Expectations

Posted by on Jul. 12, 2010 at 8:20 AM
  • 1 Replies

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A momentous deal to cap property taxes was all but done, but Gov. Chris Christie was taking no chances, barnstorming the state to commiserate with squeezed homeowners and keep pressure on the Legislature.

Outside a farmhouse here in central New Jersey last week, buttoned up in a dark suit despite the triple-digit heat, Mr. Christie promised to tackle rising pension costs, transportation financing, municipal spending — all while poking fun at his opponents, the news media and, mostly, himself.

When a reporter suggested that the governor do a rain dance, he said, “Don’t want to miss that, baby.” And in the rare instance of his withholding judgment on an issue, he said he preferred to know something about the issue before opining, although, he added, tongue in cheek, that actual knowledge was not necessarily a requirement.

It was a model taste of Mr. Christie, six months into his term as governor: blunt, energetic, clearly enjoying himself.

And having his way.

Mr. Christie has turned out to be a far more deft politician than his detractors — and even some supporters — had expected, making few compromises as he pursues a broad agenda for remaking New Jersey’s free-spending political culture. So far, polls suggest, the public is giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“The most important thing in public life, in a job like governor, is for the people you’re representing to know exactly where you stand,” Mr. Christie said in an interview on Friday. “People who disagree with me on things at least have a sense of comfort in knowing where I’m coming from.”

In a mostly blue state where Democrats control the Legislature, Mr. Christie, a Republican, won election last year mostly because of the deep unpopularity of his opponent, Gov. Jon S. Corzine. Mr. Christie, a former federal prosecutor known for aggression rather than deal-making, took office to predictions that his hard-charging style would not work in the labyrinth of Trenton, where factions of party, region and interest group would slow him down.

Instead, he confronted the powerful public employees’ unions and won, cutting future pensions and benefits, and persuaded voters to defeat hundreds of local school budgets. He got nearly everything he wanted in the state budget, making the deepest cuts in generations. And the Assembly is expected this week to give final passage to one of his cherished goals: a cap on local property taxes.

The governor has repeatedly used his powers more confrontationally than his predecessors, wading into school budget fights, freezing the actions of semiautonomous public authorities and breaking with tradition by refusing to reappoint a State Supreme Court justice.

“I think we all underestimated his political skill coming in,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. “You can’t deny that he’s been a tour de force in Trenton. He has managed to control the legislative agenda more than other governors, despite having a Legislature controlled by the opposite party.”

The governor has a direct, pithy speaking style — the sharp rise in property taxes in the past decade, he said, “is not a mystery; it’s a mandate” — often leavened by humor. And he is relentless, willing to hammer any message repeatedly and take on any critic, and he rarely meanders or evades a question.

When a reporter called him confrontational at news conference, Mr. Christie said, “You must be the thinnest-skinned guy in America,” adding that the reporter had never seen him when he was furious.

The few public opinion polls conducted so far show that he has not had the sharp drop in approval that often accompanies serious budget cuts, though most of the pain from those cuts has not yet been felt.

“He’s a much better communicator than we realized, and people seem to be willing to go along with him for now,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “He uses clear language, he doesn’t mince words, he’s funny, and he says what he thinks.”

Mr. Christie has become a favorite of conservatives across the country, and some talk of him as presidential material, though he insists, “No way is it going to happen.”

So far, circumstances have worked in Mr. Christie’s favor. The State Senate has a new president, Stephen M. Sweeney, who is seen as less liberal than his predecessor, Richard J. Codey, and more inclined to work with the governor. The recession, rising taxes and New Jersey’s perilous financial situation give persuasive power to the call to rein in government, and give Democrats who might disagree little room to maneuver.

“I think the tough times have dictated straight talk and forceful moves, and that fits him quite well,” said George Norcross III, a Democratic power broker from Camden County.

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by on Jul. 12, 2010 at 8:20 AM
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cagnew80
by Bronze Member on Jul. 12, 2010 at 11:46 AM

I like him. My husband and his family is from NJ and I know how bad the taxes are there. His mother is a teacher and, of course, the teachers hate him b/c he is freezing their pay. She makes 100K+ so I don't know why she is upset about it..... At any rate, our president should take a few lessons from this guy!

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