Gov. Chris Christie, who appears to be on the verge of announcing a run for president, told the New Jersey Legislature on Tuesday that his leadership of the state is an unqualified success. He said he has lowered costs and improved the state’s economy. And he said the pension fund crisis is not his fault. Before delivering the annual State of the State address, Christie met with national reporters, leaving little doubt that his ambitions lie outside the Garden State. Matt Katz talked over the speech with Amy Eddings on All Things Considered.
What did Christie have to say to the national media today before the speech?
I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t invited to this off-the-record session. None of the local reporters were. In fact, the governor hasn’t held a press conference in New Jersey since Oct. 9. This session with national reporters was seen by the local press as a reflection of who he intended his audience to be for this speech. And that’s the 200 or so party leaders and Republican campaign bundlers who collect donations from individuals and funnel them to candidates. Christie is already holding weekly phone calls with these folks, and he’s having meetings in New York, South Carolina, Massachusetts and Connecticut with other possible donors. Today was just his fourth day in state in 2015, and he’ll be in Iowa, home to the first Republican presidential caucus, twice in the next 2 weeks. He’s reportedly already hired a finance chairman for his still-not-announced campaign. And now that Mitt Romney is talking about running again, I’m told he and Christie are supposed to meet up soon to hash out any awkwardness considering Christie was such a major Romney backer in 2012.
Was this speech a soft launch of his presidential campaign?
The speech was really an overview of his last five years in office. He ticked off his policy successes and instances of bipartisanship, rather than laying out a roadmap of what laws and policy changes he wants for the next year. He referenced a failure in American leadership and a sense of anxiety that he’s felt while traveling the nation. In that sense it sounded more like a presidential campaign launch than a State of the State address. In fact, in 43 minutes he offered only one new policy proposal that I heard — and that’s to streamline services for drug addicts. He also wants to create one-stop reentry centers for ex-offenders battling drug addictions.
But he did focus quite a bit on the success he’s had lowering crime in Camden, the state’s poorest city. That’s not necessarily pitched to a national audience, is it?
On the face of it, it’s a local issue. But he’s preparing to run for president as someone who knows how to address issues of concern to minorities and Democrats. So he talked about using the existing amount of government money to hire more officers to fix a crime problem there. And that sounds pretty compelling to a national conservative audience. I used to cover Camden, and people there tell me they do feel safer. But there were still 33 murders last year. Christie said that was a 51 percent reduction in the homicide rate. But he’s comparing it to the year after his budget cuts led to major police layoffs, which was an anomaly. There were actually 34 murders there in 2009, the year before he took office.
What did Democrats in New Jersey have to say about the governor’s speech?
They said it offered no vision. They wanted to know what he was going to do about rising property taxes and a relatively slow economic recovery. And it’s not just Democrats. There was even unusual if not mild criticism in The Wall Street Journal today from Republicans who said that he was too concentrated on his national campaign and foresaking local issues and politics at home.
Did the speech contain any surprises?
No mention of any plan to fix Atlantic City, which is in a freefall. Casinos are closing and about 10,000 people have lost their jobs. But most surprising, for the first time since Sandy in 2012, Christie didn’t use his State of the State to give a status report on storm recovery. After all, Sandy was the reason he had said he was for running for reelection. Senate President Steve Sweeney said the governor didn’t talk about the storm recovery because “you don’t recognize obvious failures.”