More than any single Democrat, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s greatest rival has been the biggest teachers union in his home state.
Running for the Republican presidential nomination, Christie is now taking on teachers unions nationally. When was asked Sunday in an interview on CNN who deserved to be punched in the face, he didn’t hesitate: “Oh, the national teachers union.”
Christie explained, “They’re not for educating our children. They’re for greater membership, greater benefits, greater pay for their members, and they are the single most destructive force in public education in America. I’ve been saying that since 2009. I’ve got the scars to show it.”
When Christie took office in New Jersey in 2010, he quickly antagonized the teachers unions, which strongly supported his Democratic opponent.
His first budget, adopted amid a fiscal crisis, included cuts to state aid for schools, which led to layoffs in many of the state’s school districts. He frequently bashed the New Jersey Education Association during the budget process and campaigned for voters to reject local school budgets where educators hadn’t agreed to concessions.
The NJEA fired back, spending $17.5 million on lobbying in 2010 and 2011 — a record for lobbying spending in New Jersey each year — almost all of it on ads going after Christie. The union spent another $3 million in 2013 as a rare voice against Christie as he coasted to re-election.
In 2010, Christie called for the head of the Bergen County Education Association to be fired after he included this line in a memo to members:
“Dear L-rd, this year you have taken away my favorite actor, … my favorite actress …, my favorite singer, …, and my favorite salesman …. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor.”
The Bergen County local’s president, Joseph Coppola Jr., apologized, but refused to step down. He still holds the position.
It’s too soon to tell if Christie’s comment will help him in the crowded Republican primary field for president, but teachers unions are not happy with him — as usual.
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said in a statement that Christie should resign as governor, chiding him: “He is a terrible role model to the children that our members work so hard to protect, nurture and educate.”