Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie’s campaign today accused the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) of distorting his campaign platforms.
State Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Middletown), who is Christie’s campaign chairman, today told reporters that the group has engaged in “real bare knuckles distorted political advertising — the kind that I have not seen, even in this state, from a group like this.”
The Christie campaign featured three current or former teachers on a conference call today to back up the claims.
At issue are several NJEA flyers that claim Christie would force new members to enroll in 401(k) plans instead of pensions, pay towards their health plans, and end collective bargaining, among other things.
Although the Christie camp has proposed those reforms for state employees, Kyrillos said they are not meant to apply to public school teachers.
When asked whether Christie thinks that teacher pay is too high or that they should chip in to pay part of their health benefits, Kyrillos gave a non-committal answer.
“I think that Chris wants to work with boards of education to make sure we have a sustainable model of recruiting the best teachers, of paying them as much as we can, but also making sure we have a budget to work with in future years,” he said.
NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer countered that the pension and health care changes Christie proposed will touch on 51,000 non-teacher members of the union whose pensions are with the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), including cafeteria workers and bus drivers.
“He’s saying that right on his Web site,” said Wollmer.
Wollmer said Christie’s plan to eliminate health benefits to part-time workers would affect that group of NJEA members as well.
As far as collective bargaining?
“He said on 101.5 that we don’t need laws that require civil service and collective bargaining,” said Wollmer.
The NJEA, which recently endorsed Corzine, began airing anti-Christie television commercials last week and launched a Web site critical of Christie.
The group has had a contentious relationship with Christie throughout the campaign. In June, Christie told the organization that he would not seek their endorsement – a move the NJEA publicized the move as a snub. The Christie campaign answered by publicizing the letter he wrote the group, in which he said he would meet with their membership but “doing so under the specter of an endorsement is difficult.”
The Christie camp has already issued a fact sheet that goes over most of the points made during the conference call today, but a spokeswoman for Christie said the campaign had the call to counter a new television ad by the NJEA.