OCEAN — Gov. Chris Christie took his show on the road last Tuesday, coming to Monmouth County for a “town hall” meeting in the Ocean Township Community Gym, 1100 West Park Ave.
During the informal afternoon, Christie outlined his accomplishments since taking office, chided his critics in the the media and in the Democratic legislasture, and shared a little information on what made him the person he is.
“We are all a product of our parents,” he said, noting that his father, who was in attendance at the gathering, is a gregarious man of Irish heritage and his deceased mother was Sicilian. “But in the automobile of life, he was the passenger,” he said, in a sort of kidding tone. “My mother set the rules.”
Christie spent much of his time fielding questions from the more than 500 people filling the gym, who asked him to respond to a broad spectrum of topics, including tort reform to curb health care costs, education funding, the regional green house tax initiative that the Governor decided to opt out, and campaign finance reform.
Lou Parisi, a senior from Loch Arbor, said he pays about $13,000 a year in property taxes for his 90-year-old home, with a considerable amount of his taxes allotted to public education. “I ask you what steps would you take to make sure we pay our fair share of property taxes but no more?” Parisi asked.
Christie told Parisi he tried to direct more of the available state education funding toward suburban schools, but was waylaid by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that additional funds would have to be allocated to what are commonly called Abbott districts.
“That’s why I’m trying to change the Supreme Court,” but Democrats on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee have stalled two nominees, he charged.
“We need to get people on the Supreme Court who understand the limits of a judge,” Christie said. “The role is to interpret the law, not make law.”
Striding around in shirtsleeves and holding a microphone, the governor said that he and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno were elected to “turn Trenton upside down.”
And given the fact that Senate President Steve Sweeney and Christie have reached an agreement for a 10 percent income tax credit, “When you have Democrats fighting on how we cut taxes not if we cut taxes,” he said, “you know we’ve turned Trenton upside down.”
“If Kim and I had not come to Trenton, this would not have happened,” he said.
Over the course of a little more than a hour of questions and answers, Christie offered some morsels of political red meat for the partisan members of the audience, taking swipes at former Democratic Governors Jon Corzine and Jim McGreevey and state Senator Richard Codey, for their “wasteful, over the top spending;”and aiming others at teachers’ unions, which he charged were blocking his attempts to reform public education.
He also expressed support for constructing another nuclear power plant in the southern part of the state, which, he said, would create jobs and provide energy.
Christie also said he plans to seek mandatory treatment for non-violent drug offenders in a secure facility. Treating drug offenders would lead to a much lower recidivism rate, he said. “This is not soft on crime,” said Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, acknowledging that the longstanding War on Drugs hasn’t worked. “This is smart on crime.”
Adam, a young boy from Long Branch, offered the last question of the day, asking if Christie would be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate for the 2012 election. “If he calls and asks about vice president, I’ll listen to him,” Christie responded. But he told Adam, “If you’re going to make a guess, you can guess that Chris Christie will be governor in January 2013.”
That remark was met with a large round of applause from the polite and largely supportive audience.
“I hope he runs for president in 2016,” said Ocean Township resident Dorothy Johnson, describing herself as Republican as she was leaving the town hall meeting.
“He talks to you like he’s talking to a person,” she said. “He’s not talking to you like he’s a politician looking for your vote.”
These types of events are good for the governor because he’s very effective in them, John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, at Rutgers University, told The Two River Times on Wednesday.
“He’s far from the first person to do this but he’s very good at it and I think he’s getting tremendous benefit from it,” Weingart said, “in terms of governing and in terms of future elections.
“There is also the celebrity factor,” given Christie has commanded a national stage and had been the topic of conversations, and his overall command of the issues is of a great benefit for Christie, Weingart pointed out. “It makes him appear much better at these things than most governors, than most people on politics.”