I recently interviewed Gov. Chris Christie for another edition of “Christie: On the Line,” a live call-in program that aired on several public television stations including NJTV and WNET, as well as radio stations WOR 710 and WBGO, and online at NJ.com.
As usual, Christie was blunt, engaging, at times confrontational and never at a loss for words. He took on every caller and every question, no matter what the subject. You could see when he was put off by a question, but he still answered directly.
At a certain point, we got in to a spirited exchange on the subject of same-sex marriage. The governor made it clear that he had always said he would veto any legislation that passed and reached his desk, which is exactly what he did. I pressed him further on the issue asking why he would support a referendum knowing that in other states, including California, such referendums had failed, even if public opinion polls had previously shown support for same-sex marriage.
Gov. Christie pushed back, challenging me very directly, saying that the public could express themselves and their views on this issue and that again, he had never changed his position on same-sex marriage largely because of his religious beliefs that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
At a certain point, the governor made it clear that the issue had been debated enough and there were other issues to consider, particularly jobs and the need to cut taxes. When I said that I believed we could try to do those things and still deal with same-sex marriage, it was even more clear, without him saying a word, that Christie was absolutely done with the subject.
At that moment, I felt compelled before we moved on to say something on the air about our previous governor, Jon Corzine. You see, we used to do a show called, “Corzine: On the Line,” and when the subject of same-sex marriage came up on that program, Corzine consistently talked about his enthusiastic support of same-sex marriage.
Unlike Christie, he had no religious beliefs that stood in the way of signing such legislation if it were to get to his desk. But what I said on public television was that in spite of then Gov. Corzine’s publicly stated position, he never lifted a finger to fight for same-sex marriage or to push Democratic legislators when they controlled both houses of the legislature, to get the bill passed and on to his desk. He never fought for what he said he believed in.
The fact is, this issue of same-sex marriage is a perfect example of what separates Chris Christie from Jon Corzine. Even if you disagree with Christie on this or any other issue, you’ve got to respect the fact that he tells you exactly what he thinks and backs it up with his actions. He has never deviated from his position on this issue. He always said that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill and that’s exactly what he did when it came to his desk.
Simply put, he has stood by his convictions. He has done it on other issues including those he has advocated for, such as public employee health benefit and pension reform, property tax caps and the privatization of public television. When Christie says he believes in something, he fights for it, whether he is for or against it, he fights, and you’ve got to respect that.
Corzine never fought, he folded consistently, and that’s not what a strong chief executive is supposed to do.
I may sometimes philosophically disagree with Gov. Christie. In fact, when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage, we have a strong disagreement. This is mostly because there are people who are very close to me who have been in committed, same-sex relationships for many years for whom I believe civil union laws haven’t come close to providing the same legal protections and rights as provided by marriage.
But, at least you know where Chris Christie is coming from. With Corzine, even when you agreed with him, you couldn’t count on him having the courage or the guts to follow through on what he said he believed. His knees were perpetually weak and at the first sign of opposition he would fold like a cheap card table.
No matter what the issue, Corzine would make bold pronouncements about some public policy that he would want you to believe that he believed in, and then within weeks or months (and sometimes just days) he would say something like; “Never mind, I didn’t realize that certain people would be against it.” That’s not leadership. That’s just weak. With Christie, it is the exact opposite.
People ask why we vote for one candidate or another. This is a particularly important question as we are about to elect a president again. I would like to agree with the person I am voting for on most issues, but sometimes that’s not always possible. In fact, I think it is nearly impossible. Yet, what is the point of agreeing with someone who is going to hold a major executive office, if when they get into that position they are not going to have the intestinal fortitude to carry out those policies when the going gets tough?
I disagree with Gov. Christie when it comes to gay marriage, and I have disagreed with him on the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax.” But, the one thing I’m sure of is that I’m never unsure of where he stands, and the more I think about it, that’s a quality that is all too rare in elected officials these days. It’s a quality that I particularly like in a chief executive. Now that’s something to think about.