New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is running hard for a second term, and for a place in the 2016 Republican presidential race.
He’s still the front-runner in his re-election run, thanks to a huge bankroll, celebrity-worship media coverage and the advantages of incumbency. But his once overwhelming poll lead has shrunk a bit as the campaign has come to a close. Where a mid-October Quinnipiac survey gave the governor a thirty-three-point lead over Democrat Barbara Buono, and a Richard Stockton College survey from last week had him up twenty-four points, the latest poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University had him up just nineteen points.
That’s a wide margin. But it is striking that, as the election comes closer, and as Christie dramatically increases his spending and campaigning, his numbers are declining.
Maybe it has something to do with treatment of teachers.
Since becoming governor in 2010, Christie done a lot of yelling at teachers.
Not long after his election, Christie coupled his constant criticism of New Jersey Education Association union members with cuts that have made it harder for the targets of that criticism to do their jobs. “New Jersey public schools have been underfunded by the State by an astonishing $5.2 billion since 2010,” observes Julia Sass Rubin, PhD, an associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, who is a founding member of the group Save Our Schools NJ. She goes on:
“This shortfall has been most severe in school districts populated primarily by children of color. For example, the Paterson, Elizabeth, and Newark school districts combined lost over $300 million since 2010. If the New Jersey Supreme Court had not intervened in 2012 to restore some of the funding, the damage would have been even greater. Gov. Chris Christie also tried repeatedly to permanently alter the State’s school funding formula, to reduce funding for the almost 40 percent of New Jersey public school students who are low-income and/or Limited English Proficient.”
When teachers have questioned Christie, he has not responded well.
Early in his tenure, the governor was so belligerent that Marie Corfield, an art teacher at Robert Hunter Elementary School in Flemington, confronted him at a town hall meeting and declared: “New Jersey has some of the best schools in the country, and this administration has done nothing but lambaste us and tell us what horrible schools we have.”
When Christie started to pick at her, Corfield announced: “I’m going back to work.”
A video of the confrontation went viral and the teacher from Flemington is now a top Democratic candidate for the New Jersey Assembly who says New Jersey has “a governor who leads by intimidation and not diplomacy. That is not the hallmark of a strong leader. We have been fighting against that. We are fighting against bullying instead of real leadership.”
Christie’s record on education issues—and on respect for teachers—is so atrocious that Diane Ravitch, the author and analyst of education debates, has urgently endorsed the governor’s Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono. Though Ravitch notes the Democratic legislator’s impressive résumé and platform, she also says:
“[Buono’s] first qualification is that she is not Chris Christie. Christie has divided the state, neglected its poorest communities (other than to try to privatize their public schools), and bullied people he doesn’t agree with. He disdains public schools (calling them “failure factories”) and scorns the people who work in them every day to educate the children of New Jersey. He is ignorant of the fact that the public schools of New Jersey are ranked near the very top on federal tests. He actively promotes policies that segregate and disempower people of color in New Jersey. I shudder to think of an America in which someone with the character of Chris Christie were considered a role model.”
That’s not the sort of review any governor should want—especially one who is positioning himself for re-election and then a presidential run.
But Christie can’t control his urge to bash teachers.
On Saturday, as he finished a day of campaigning across New Jersey, the governor ran into Melissa Tomlinson, a veteran teacher who asked Christie: “Why do you continue to spread the myth that our schools and teachers are failing?”
Christie shot back, “Because they are!”
Then, poking a finger at Tomlinson, the governor shouted, “I am tired of you people.”
He demanded to know: “What do you want?”
Tomlinson replied, “I want more money for my students.”
As his supported taunted the teacher, Christie told the teacher to just do her job.
Tomlinson kept her cool and headed home, where she wrote a poignant letter to the governor in which she explained, “I am a public school teacher that works 60 hours a week in my building, Yes, you can check with my principal. I run the after-school program, along with my classroom position. I do even more work when I am at home. For verification, just ask my children.”
In her letter, she detailed the challenges caused by Christie’s cuts to public education. She also reflected on the folly of focusing so much school time on preparing for and administering standardized tests and on privatization schemes.
And she asked the tough questions about the governor’s constant political positioning.
“Why do you portray schools as failure factories? What benefit do you reap from this? Have you acquired financial promises for your future campaigns as you eye the presidential nomination?” wrote Tomlinson, suggesting that in order to score political points, “you are setting up the teachers to take the blame. Unfortunately, you are not the only governor in our country that has this agenda.”
“What do ‘we people’ want, Governor Christie?” Tomlinson asked rhetorically. “We want our schools back. We want to teach. We want to be allowed to help these children to grow, educationally, socially and emotionally. We want to be respected as we do this, not bullied.”
John Nichols dispels the notion that Chris Christie is a moderate.