Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chris Christie vs. the Teacher's Unions

Really absorbing profile by Matt Bai of Chris Christie's fight against the teacher's union in New Jersey (subscription possibly required). The biggest thing I took away from it was what a capable politician Christie is. He knows how to craft compelling narratives and I get the sense that he's like Obama in that he can maintain high approval ratings even when people disagree with some of his policies, simply because of his personal appeal.

The prevailing wisdom seems to have been that Christie's star would fade as he actually began to enact the reforms that he had been promising, and that governing in a budget crisis creates tough choices that hurt people and thus would hurt Christie politically. But it seems like the combination of the New Jersey Educational Association being unsavvy political maneuverers who are having trouble adjusting to the changing times, and the rising unpopularity of unions has created an opportunity for Christie to move forward with his agenda with the perfect scapegoat to fight against, and actually come out of it with an even better reputation because he will be able to cast himself as a maverick reformer.

I'm also not convinced that he's not going to run for president in 2012. I know that he has ruled it out, but any politician actually holding elected office always denies thinking about running all the way up to the second that they announce their candidacy because otherwise they look unprofessional and paint a bullseye for their opponents earlier than they need to (for example, Obama also flatly ruled out running in the last presidential cycle several times before announcing his candidacy). In a relatively weak Republican field, Christie could turn his flavor-of-the-moment buzz into a formidable political machine, and in a general election I think he could be a very dangerous opponent for Obama.


TJE said...

A proud child of Livingston, NJ. Can you name others?

Julia G said...

Me! And George from Seinfeld.
Although I agree that Christie is an excellent speaker, I have a problem with some of his rhetoric. Obviously there are serious problems with New Jersey's deficit, but I don't think that's an excuse to treat NJ teachers as the scapegoat for everything that's wrong with the state. Teachers and the NJEA are not the ones who for years chose not to fund the pension, but now they're the ones who will suffer. Despite popular belief, a lot of teachers don't have a problem contributing more to their health insurance and pension. The problem comes in when they are asked to increase their contributions all at once. Christie's new budget proposes that teachers pay 30% of their health care premiums and an additional 3% of their salaries into the penion system. This would cost the average teacher about 16% of their take-home pay, which is a lot for a member of the middle-class. At the same time, Christie refuses to renew a tax on millionaires which would raise revenue by almost $1 billion.
I really do agree with a lot of his points, given the seriousness of the NJ budget problem, but I don't agree with the blame he's placing on public employees. There are other ways to go about framing the issue.

TJE said...

Not to mention Harlen Coben.