PARAMUS – Following the Tucson shooting, Gov. Chris Christie isn’t shying away from interactions with the public, even though the dangers have been made apparent.
He held 25 town hall meetings across the state last year – “a symbol of the power of our democracy,” he said today – and his first in 2011 was in Bergen County.
People were being turned away at the door because the Paramus Elks Lodge was at its 500-person capacity, just north of Route 4 on Route 17.
Route 4 is a political boundary in Bergen: the farther north one travels, the more conservative the electorate becomes.
So, it may have been symbolic that Christie, who pundits say is softening his style of late, marched so close to the blue-red border in GOP-leaning, but still Dem-heavy Bergen County today. Even so, Christie was still north of the dividing line.
He quickly congratulated new Republican County Executive Kathe Donovan – who resides a good bit south of Route 4 in Rutherford – on assuming her office this month before he addressed the Arizona killing spree and the art of democratic debate.
“There are some who say, Don’t come out and do this anymore,” Christie said.
But staying bunkered in the Statehouse leads a governor to isolationism and disconnected decision making, Christie replied, and without naming him, jabbed former Gov. Jon Corzine, who was criticized even by his own party for avoiding the citizenry.
While the sad events in the West have brought attention to combative vocabularies and political headbutts, he said all of that is fine – even essential – so long as it remains constructive.
He later recalled the words of his mother: “If you ever get to choose between love and respect, take respect. Love may come later. But if you are worried about love only, respect may never come.”
“There are people here today who have opinions opposite of mine,” he said. “If someone gets up and yells and screams, I’m going to yell and scream back.”
Christie outlined his State of the State address to the audience, candidly stating that he was “overwhelmed” by the moment as he stepped to the podium on Tuesday.
He recounted the bullet points.
Fiscal accountability: “If we have a choice between cutting programs and raising taxes, cut the programs. Cut the programs, (and) let us get back on our feet again.”
Health care and pensions: “You have to have a plan where everybody has skin in the game.”
Teacher tenure reform: “The only profession left, with the possible exception of the United States Congress, (where failure is acceptable).”
He took questions from the crowd on his transportation plan, charter schools, concealed weapons, and autism funding.
Asked for an update on his toolkit, Christie said only five of 22 bills were passed – “relatively important” ones, he conceded – but said he’ll stay on top of the legislature to finish the job, especially regarding civil service reform.
Christie seemed to have the most fun with Diane Sare, who introduced herself as a LaRouche Democrat who is planning a Congressional run in Bergen County.
LaRouche refers to political activist Lyndon LaRouche who over the past few decades has run numerous times for president, and has been associated with many political organizations, some of which have been decried by their critics as extremist groups.
Sare said afterward that she is currently in U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ09)’s district, but hopes that redistricting pits her against far-right U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ05) to the north.
At Thursday’s town hall meeting, Sare quickly listed her major criticisms of President Barack Obama – health care, bank bailouts, and space missions – then turned to Christie and politely said, “I think your policies are identical to his.”
Christie playfully called out for someone to alert the president of this development immediately.
But Sare waited for the laughs to subside, then laid out her plan to take private sector bailout funding and allocate it to state governments to get them out of the fiscal hole they’re in. She asked Christie to work with her to make the plan happen.
“You want to work with me,” he said, “after you called me Obama?”
“We cannot have the federal government continue to bailout the (irresponsible) spending of the state,” he said.