In late June, Gov. Chris Christie flew to Colorado and motored out to Vail, where he gave the keynote speech to a group of wealthy conservative donors shepherded to the playground of the rich and famous by David Koch.
Koch along with his brother Charles is the owner of Koch Industries and a founder of Americans for Prosperity.
Mother Jones magazine obtained the audio of Christie’s speech, which until the magazine obtained recordings of it, had gone unreported.
The governor had the affluent crowd rolling in the aisles as he regaled them with tales of derring-do in his never ending battle with New Jersey’s Democratic legislature.
The Christie-shtick that drew the most laughs, however, was not when he called the Democrats “stupid” for pushing the millionaire’s tax when they knew he’d wipe it out with one stroke of the veto pen, but when he did a (damn good) impression of former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine wheeling his cot into the governor’s office to wait out the government shut down.
Among the revelations in the leaked audio is Christie’s account of a conversation between him and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver where he said Oliver told him she might not survive the pension and benefits vote about to take place in her house. The bill to reform pension and health benefits for state workers was wildly unpopular in her caucus and Oliver knew she was risking her neck in ramming it through.
At the speaker’s request, Christie said he had lined up enough Republican votes in the lower chamber to keep Oliver in power should her caucus have tried to take her out.
“I said Sheila Oliver is under siege. And she wants to do the right thing. And we cannot be slaves to party or partisanship. She is right on this issue and she is with us on this issue,” Christie said he told Assembly Republicans. “So if they take a run at her on the floor, I need all of you to vote for her for Speaker.”
Several Democratic sources said at the time Oliver was in little actual danger because no potential opponent for the speakership had lined up enough votes to take her out. Nevertheless, according to Christie, Oliver was nervous enough that she sought Christie’s assurance that his party would back her.
Here is the Mother Jones story as well as a link to the audio of the event.
Below is a transcript of Christie’s speech courtesy of Brad Blog.
David, thank you very much for the introduction and thank you all of you for the great welcome. Not just now but throughout the day today. I’ve had an opportunity to meet many of you and to be able to thank you personally for what you’re doing to support folks like me who are out there on the front lines fighting for the principles and the values that we believe in. Believe me, now’s the time, and I’ve heard this repeated many times today, now’s the time when we need to fight even harder because the opponents of what we want to try to maintain in our country are fighting harder than ever. And I’ll state to you why I think it is that they’re fighting even harder than ever as we discuss these issues tonight.
Ya know, I did my State of the State address, my first one as Governor, back this past January. And I said, it was the first week of January, and I said that I thought it was time for New Jersey to do the big things. Not to worry about the small-bore problems, but to get to the heart of the big problems that were facing our state, in fact our country.
And how do we define those? We define them as three things: First, to return our budget to fiscal sanity by cutting spending and under no circumstances raising taxes on the people of the state of New Jersey, who are the most overtaxed citizens in America. Second would be to reform a pension and health benefit system — that had a pension system with a fifty-four billion dollar underfunding and a public sector health insurance system that was underfunded by 67 billion dollars. That’s over a 120 billion dollars in accumulated underfunding between those two funds. So our state was careening towards insolvency, and it was. And third, I said we had to reform a broken K to 12 education system in our state where the feelings of adults were given more respect than the needs of children. And that we needed to tell the truth about the fact that America was falling behind as an economic giant because we were no longer educating our children in a way that was going to make them the best to compete both here and around the world.
Now, I found it kind of ironic, three weeks later we sat down, my family and I, to watch the President’s State of the Union address. And my son, my oldest, Andrew, who’s 17, asked me what I expected that night. [some laughter] I said I didn’t really know what to expect but that I hoped that given the magnitude of crisis that the country was facing, with debt and deficits and lack of economic growth, that the President would just stand up finally and tell the truth about the fact that we had to confront the same things in America that we’re confronting in Jersey, and the analogous problems. The ones I talked about. Obviously education reform is the same, but then to say he was going to deal with the deficit, to make government small, and that the equivalent on the federal level to pension and benefit reform was to reform the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security systems, because they are bankrupting America in the same way that our pension and benefit system was bankrupting New Jersey.
So we sat down and listened to his speech and ironically the President, you might remember, that night said, it was time for America to do the big things. Exact same phrase. Three weeks after mine. [laughter] Except the difference between me and Barack Obama is on full display tonight because here’s what he said the big things were. He said the big things were electric cars [scattered laughter], high-speed internet access and high-speed rail.
Now, listen, not like I quibble with any of those things, you know? I don’t think any of us go on the internet and think, “If only it were slower,” [laughter] “my life would be so much better if the internet were just a little slower.” Nobody gets on a train in New Jersey headed to Washington, which is usually a two and a half hour trip, and says, “If it were only three hours” [some laughter] “rather than two and a half, my life would be better.” I don’t quibble with the fact that some of that might be good. But the big things? In a country that’s 14 trillion dollars in debt? In a country that’s borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends? In a country that has stagnant economic growth and is careening towards insolvency? You have the audacity to stand in front of the American people and say the big things are electric cars? This is the candy of American politics, ladies and gentleman. And he is treating us like children. Trying to give us small pieces of candy to separate ourselves from the reality of the impending crisis.
And so we decided, my son and I, after watching that speech, that he had failed the test of leadership. He had failed the fundamental test of leadership, which I believe is to tell the people who hired you the truth, unvarnished truth.
And so, what’s happened in New Jersey? You may know that I inherited a 2.2 billion dollar budget gap in my first couple of months on the job. So this budget we were in the midst of, the one that Jon Corzine left me and told me it was just fine. “Chris don’t worry, all is well,” as the door hit him in the rear end on the way out. [laughter, audience member is heard saying “hope it hit him hard”] And in my first week on the job, my first week on the job my Treasurer came to me and showed me the cash flow analysis for the State of New Jersey. And I said to him, not being an expert in reading cash flow analysis like a number of you in this room, “What does this mean when the line goes below that other line?” [laughter] “here in March?”. And he said to me, “Well, Governor, what that means is in March the State of New Jersey will not be able to meet payroll.”
I inherited a state, the second wealthiest state in America, per capita, that was not going to meet payroll in the second pay period of March. So you can imagine the Democrats in my state were gleeful. They had stuck me with this problem and now they all were announcing, “Well, he’s going to have to raise taxes, ‘cuz there’s only five months left in the fiscal year and you can’t cut enough spending in five months to make up that gap, so…Oh, poor, poor Chris. He’s gonna have to raise taxes. And he’s going to have to come to us to negotiate it.”
And the good news for all of you and for me is that the governorship in New Jersey is the most powerful constitutional governorship in America. And so I went to my folks and said, “Listen. We’ve got to fix this problem but I do not want to deal with those people down the hall.” [laughter, scattered applause] And so they told me, “If you declare a fiscal state of emergency, you can use your emergency powers as Governor to impound 2.2 billion dollars in planned spending and balance the budget. And you can do it by executive order.” I said, “Man, I love this state!” [laughter, scattered applause]
So, I went in my office, all by myself, and set up the executive order and I signed it. But I thought it would be rude for me not to go down and tell that co-equal branch of government what I had just done. [scattered laughter] So I asked them for a joint session speech. And we went down there to give our joint session speech, and I basically said this: “You left me with a 2.2 billion dollar problem. You want me to raise taxes. I’m not going to. I just impounded the money by executive order. I fixed your problem. Thanks, have a nice day.” And I walked out. [laughter followed by applause]
Well, you can imagine the disorientation [laughter] and the furor of the New Jersey state legislature after I left. And you heard the leadership of the legislature saying all kinds of things. Nasty things. About their Governor! Saying, comparing me to Napoleon Bonaparte! Julius Caesar! All those great heroes of the past that I admire so much. [laughter]
So the next day, as it turns out, myself and the Senate President, Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, we walk into the State House at the same time. I have a newspaper with me and he had called me Julius Caesar in the paper and King Christie. And so I was walking in and I said, “You know, Steve, you’ve convinced me. You’ve convinced me, you know, with these things you said in the paper. Maybe I was wrong. So here’s what I’m going to do for you. I’m going to go upstairs, I’m going to vacate that executive order, and let you guys fix the 2.2 billion dollar problem.” This’ll say everything you need to know about the governor, government I inherited in New Jersey. Here’s what he said: “Heheh…Governor, wait a second, don’t overreact.” [huge laughter] “All things considered, we think you did pretty well.” [more laughter] “This is politics, man. Calm down.”
We then moved forward to our next fiscal year, and we had an 11 billion dollar deficit on a 29 billion dollar budget. Thirty-seven percent deficit. Five percent, it’s the highest deficit of any state government in America. And now the Democrats were really ready. They said, “Okay, listen, 2.2 billion, fancy little trick with the executive order, but this is 11 billion dollars. He’s gonna have to raise taxes.”
And so they decided, they had a plan. They were gonna raise what in New Jersey we call “The Millionaires Tax.” Now, I wanted caution you first, for those, I know there are a few of you here from New Jersey, you know this, but I caution you first about New Jersey math. [laughter] See, we have a “Millionaires Tax” in New Jersey. But the New Jersey “Millionaires Tax” applies to anyone, individual or business, who makes over $400,000 a year. [laughter] That’s called New Jersey math. [more laughter] And, what’s great, I say to people all over the country, “If you’re not a millionaire but you want to feel like one…” [laughter] “…come to New Jersey! We’ll tax you like a millionaire even if you’re not one!” [laughter continues]
So, we have this 9% tax rate, of people who make $400,000 or more. They wanted to raise that to 10 and ¾%. And they told me, when I announced my budget, “Governor’s budget’s dead on arrival if it doesn’t include a ‘Millionaire’s Tax’. We will close down the government unless he signs the ‘Millionaire’s Tax’. We will close the government on July first. This will not move forward.”
Now, this had happened four years earlier with Governor Jon Corzine. They had fought – see, this is way Democrats fight about it – they were fighting about how much to raise the sales tax, and they couldn’t agree on how much to raise taxes, so they closed down government because they were arguing about how much to raise taxes. [some laughter] Only in New Jersey.
And so a lot of the same folks who were in the legislature then were still in the legislature. So I felt as a courtesy that I’d call ’em down to let them know that the place was under new management. [laughter] So I said, “Listen, I heard all your talk about closing down the government. Now listen, I know what Corzine did four years ago.” See, Corzine held a press conference. And he rolled a cot into the Governor’s office, and he said – (sorry, I’m going to have to do this because this is kind of the way he talks) — [lowering his voice and speaking slowly in imitation of Corzine’s voice] “I will not, I will not leave this office until this crisis is solved. I will sleep right there in that cot until this crisis is solved.”
So I said, “Now, I know he did that. But let me tell you guys what’s gonna happen if you close down the government. If you close down the government, I’m not movin’ any cot into this office and sleepin’ here. I mean, look at me. I ain’t sleepin’ on a cot!… [laughter] …In the governor’s office!” [broad laughter, talking, and applause] I mean, public service is about sacrifice, but not that much sacrifice. [laughter]
I said, “What I’m going to do is I’m going get in those black SUVs, I’m going to leave with the troopers, I’m going to go to the Governor’s mansion. I’m going to go upstairs, I’m going to order a pizza, I’m going to open a beer and I’m going to watch the Mets. [laughter] And when you all decide to reopen the government, give me a call, but I am not raising taxes. That’s it.”
So what happened? They send me the tax, and that Senate President I told you about, Steve Sweeney, he walked it down to me, with the cameras following him. Now, my mother taught me good manners. If you have company coming, you put your coat on, you go and greet them. So I came out in the outer office to greet the Senate President who came to bring me the bill. And you know, I forget what the heck they called it? You know they never call it “The Millionaire’s Tax”, they call it the “Fairness and Justice for All of New Jersey Act”, you know? So, like they’re hoping maybe to throw it by me, you know? “Oh, well I’m for Fairness and Justice! Sure. Where do I sign?” [laughter] Ya know? I don’t know what the hell they called it, but they called it somethin’ other than “The Millionaires Tax”, and he came down and he presented it to me.
And I looked at him and I said, “Steve, stand here for one second. This isn’t gonna take long. Sit down.” So he sat down, the cameras are all goin’, and I just sat down in a chair right down in the outer office and I took out this pen and I vetoed it, and I handed it right back to him. And I said, “Take this back where it came from, ‘cuz I ain’t signin’ it.” And that was it. That was the end of it. [applause]
They tried to override the veto, the Republicans sustained my veto, and then they passed a budget with 99.8% of the line items exactly as I had presented to them in March, the one they said was dead on arrival, and we balanced the budget without any new or increased taxes on the people of New Jersey. We fixed an 11 billion dollar budget deficit by doing what the public sent me there to do: Making government smaller, cutting wasteful spending and even cutting some programs that we like, because there’s one simple truth: we cannot and should not spend money that we don’t have. And that’s what we did in New Jersey.
Now, I’ve told you a couple of bad stories about Senate President Steve Sweeney. So let me tell you a good one. Because it was alluded to in the introductions that David talked about, about what happened in New Jersey last week. And I will tell you that something that I think is truly historic happened in New Jersey, and something that will be a model for the rest of the country. The pension benefit bill I proposed it in September. And I held 30 town halls all over New Jersey, in every county in the state, selling our plan. Explaining to people in plain English a 54 billion dollar deficit in the pension fund and how teachers, police officers, firefighters, other public sector workers, they’re not going to collect a pension. The pension could very well be insolvent by 2018.” And explained to folks how public employees are paying near nothing for their health insurance. And it was on the backs of the taxpayers. And we built a case.
And then finally this spring the Senate president came up with his own plan and we began to negotiate. And talk to each other. And during the day I’d go out on the stump and beat the bejeezus out of him and then late in the afternoon or evening we’d get together in my office alone and we made a promise to each other. We’ve got to fix this problem. It can’t be about party. It’s got to be about the people that we’re here to serve. And he looked at me and said, “I’m going to be your partner on this. We’re going to fix it. And we’re going to fix it the right way.” And then the Assembly Speaker, another Democrat, got brought into the negotiations. And for the last two months we have been negotiating with each other. And two weeks ago Wednesday we announced that we had come to an agreement. And here’s the thing. Most of the Democrats in the legislature wanted to have nothing to do with this bill. Nothing to do with it. And they’re in the majority. But these two leaders stood firm. Said, “We’re going to post this to a vote and we’re going to force you to vote on it. Because it’s the right thing to do.” And last Monday the New Jersey State Senate, with only 8 of the 24 Democrats who are in the Senate, passed that bill with 16 Republicans, 24 to 15. A true bipartisan coming together. [applause]
And Thursday night it came time for the Assembly. And they started to caucus at 11:00 in the morning. They were supposed to start voting at 1:00. It got to be 5:30 and they were still in the caucus room. And the reports I was getting out of there were not positive about what was going on to my friend the Speaker. She was takin’ a beating at the hands of her own party. At 5:30 she called me and she said to me, “Governor, I don’t know how this is going to play out, but I’m going to, I want to post the bill but I think when I go on the floor, my own party’s going to take a run at me to remove me as Speaker. So I can’t post the bill.” She said, “I think the only way I survive is if the 33 Republicans in the chamber will agree to vote for me for Speaker. Can you work it out?” [scattered laughter] So I said, “Give me five minutes.” [laughter]
So I went down to the Republican Assembly caucus room. I stood at the front of the room and I said, “Ladies and gentleman, it’s a historic day today. You’re going to get an opportunity to cast two historic votes.” [laughter] “The first one, of course, is about pension and benefit reform and I know that everybody in this room supports it. The second one is a little more unusual.” [laughter] I said, “Probably for the only time in my governorship I’m going to actually ask you to vote for a Democrat. I said Sheila Oliver is under siege. And she wants to do the right thing. And we cannot be slaves to party or partisanship. She is right on this issue and she is with us on this issue. So if they take a run at her on the floor, I need all of you to vote for her for Speaker.” I had these men and women look back at me like, “What?” [scattered laughter] And I said to ’em, “We were sent here to lead. Not to preen and posture, posture and pose. To lead. A public office to lead. We need to do this. So raise your hands. Are you with me or aren’t you?” All 33 of them raised their hands and said they were with me.
And so I went back to my office, I got on the phone and I called the Speaker, and I said, “You just got 33 new votes.” And she said, “Well, you just got yourself a bill.” And she went on the floor, she led the debate, another two and a half hours of debate. They never took a run at her. It was the Minority Leader who suddenly went over to the Majority Leader of the Assembly, it was the guy who was gonna take a run at her, and said, “By the way, we’ve got her back, so don’t try it.” [very scattered chuckles] They didn’t. They opened up the board, they cast the votes, by then 46 to 32, with 33 Republicans and 13 Democrats, we passed health and pension reform that will save the taxpayers of New Jersey over the next 30 years at least 132 billion dollars. [audience: “wows”, whistles, applause]
When I get back to New Jersey tomorrow morning, we will sign the bill on Tuesday and make it law and it will become effective July 1st. And that’s what we were sent to do to govern.
Now, I’ve listened to all the things that are being talked about today. And it strikes me that everybody in this room is here because they want our country to do the big things. Because they want to support leaders and principles and ideas that will make our country even greater than it is already. No one is here today for self-promotion or for self-aggrandizement or for self-enrichment. Everybody who’s here for this weekend is here because they know that the opportunity that was presented to us as Americans is one of the most special gifts that will ever, ever be given. Not to be guaranteed anything except that opportunity. Make the most of the God-given talents that we have been blessed with and combine that with the great opportunity that America presents to make our lives something special. We want that same thing for our children and for our grandchildren. And we’re here because we know that it is no longer a sure thing if it ever was. And in fact, under this administration, it is at greater risk than it has been in my lifetime.
Now I turned 18 in 1980. I sat in my dorm room in college and filled out an absentee ballot and voted for Ronald Reagan. Because, he explained to me as an 18 year old certain simple but powerful truths about what this country was about, but more important than that, what it needed to be for the world in the future, and what we needed to do to get there. We need to start tellin’ the truth again, just like that. And it can’t just come from people who hold public office. There is not enough of us, believe it or not. It needs to come from all those people who have been fortunate enough to take full advantage of the extraordinary America opportunity. And that means unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit in this country. That means allowing capitalism to flow and…grow and thrive. That means standing up for the common sense principles that we all know are true, that government is necessary but should not be everywhere. That we should pay taxes to provide the services that we need as a nation but not a penny more. And that we should hold to account everyone, everyone that we give the honor and privilege of public office to, to act with honesty and integrity and with an eye to the future.
Now, I’ve had an extraordinary opportunity the last 17 months, being Governor in our state. Someone asked me at dinner tonight, “What made you think that running for Governor of New Jersey as a Republican was a good idea?” [laughter] And I said, “You know, I decided finally to run because of something that my wife said to me. Ya know, I was U.S. Attorney for seven years in New Jersey from the Bush administration. President Obama had been elected and so it was time for me to resign and move on and give him the opportunity to pick the U.S. Attorneys he wanted. I was trying to decide whether to run for Governor or whether to go back into business. And asked my wife, “What do you think I should do?”
And she said to me, “Look, I think you really want to do this. I know you’re torn about your obligations to the family, so let me just tell you this. I have no interest in living the rest of my life with a man filled with regret. And if you go off and you go into business and you make a lot of money (and I know you will), you gotta promise you’re not going to sit on the back porch with me three years from now and say to me, ‘Yeah, this is all great but I wonder what would have happened if I would have run? I wonder if I would have won? I wonder if I could have made a difference?'” She said, “I don’t want to live with a man full of regret. So if you want to do this, then let’s do it. And if you win, that’s great. And if you lose, then you’ve got plenty of time to do the rest of the stuff.”
And it was a powerful bit of advice from someone who knows me better’n anybody. Because I would’ve been filled with regret if I didn’t try this. And so [well, Pete(?)] I don’t know what the hell made me think it was a good idea. [laughter] But I tell that story about my wife so if anybody thinks it’s a bad idea I can blame it on her. [laughter] And that’s the beauty of marriage after 25 years, because we’re stuck with each other! We have four kids. Listen, we’re all in. [scattered laughter]
So, I have had an enormous opportunity to make change in a state that desperately needed it. A state that has 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans. A state that hadn’t elected a Republican statewide in 12 years. A state that still hasn’t elected a Republican United States Senator since 1972. So you’re right, Peter, the odds didn’t look so great for us. But here’s why we won: Because their ideas are wrong and our ideas are right. [loud applause and whistling]
And so, as I was leavin’ this morning, I was tellin’ Chuck this story, as I was leavin’ this morning, about 7:30, to hop on the plane to come out here, all my children were asleep. And so I went into my ten year old son Patrick’s room to give him a kiss goodbye on the forehead before I left, and he woke up and saw me in the suit, you know, and looked up and he said, “Aw, man, it’s Monday already?” [extended laughter] And I said, “No, no, Patrick.” I said, “Dad’s got to go on this special business thing. I’m going to Colorado. I’m [inaudible] now.” He said, “You’re goin’ to Colorado now?” I said, “Yeah.” He just shook his head, he goes, “Dad? This Governor job is really busy.” [laughter]
I’ve left my family on Sunday, which I don’t normally do, to come here. Because if we’re going to win this fight, it’s the people in this room that are gonna win it. It’s the people in this room who have enjoyed all the greatness that America gives us the opportunity to enjoy, they’re going to be the 21st century patriots who are going to preserve liberty and freedom and opportunity for the next generation. And you know, they’re going to be judged. All of us are going to be judged by our children and grandchildren. We know that. And when they look back on this time of extraordinary crisis in our country’s history, what are they going to say about us? Are they going to say that we assuaged ourselves with the creature comforts that we’ve earned? The wealth and the beauty and the promise that America’s given to us and bury our heads in the sand and say, “The problems are now just much too big and I’m just too small to be able to change it.” Or will they say about us that at this time of crisis that we stood up and said, “No.” That’s not good enough. We’ve got to stand up and fight for the country we’ve inherited. We’ve got to stand up for our country to make it better for our children and grandchildren, and will they look at us and say, as we pass the torch of American leadership to them, that we didn’t shrink, that we can say to them, “We did the best we could. Now it’s your turn.”
That’s the choice we’re confronted with, ladies and gentleman. That’s why I’m here tonight. I’m here because it will be you, the people in this room, are the modern day patriots who will save this country or let it go by the wayside. It’s up to us. It’s been said often, “To those who much is given, much is expected.” And much is expected from all of us who have had this great privilege.
So I got on the plane and came out here today because I know that I’m preaching to the choir. And I heard the greatest explanation of preaching to the choir that I’ve ever heard from a Lutheran minster a number of years ago. You know, preaching to the choir sound like you’re wasting your time, right? People usually say, “Oh, you’re just preaching to the choir.” This Lutheran minister explained to me and a group of others he was speaking to, he said, “I plead guilty to the ‘preaching to the choir.’ I preach to the choir every Sunday. I preach to the choir so they’ll sing. I preach to the choir so they’ll sing.” And so I’m coming here tonight to preach to the choir so that you’ll sing. So that you’ll go back to every corner of this great country and say, “It’s not someone else’s job to fix it. It’s my job to fix it.” And every state that you come from, it’s your job to fix it. Not someone else’s. Not some imaginary force that’s out there. You. And me. It’s our job to fix this country. And so I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to come here and to talk to a group of folks who I think uniquely understand that challenge and will not shrink from it.
We cannot let our children down. We cannot let our country down. We cannot let the world down. America is still the place that will lead this world to greater things if we care enough to stand up and say, “No, we will not accept mediocrity. We are Americans and we are built for greatness.”
Thank you all very much. [extended applause] Thank you…Thank you very much…Thank you…
Here comes…This is the fun part now. If any of you have seen me on YouTube, you’ve seen some of my town hall meetings. And I have some interesting interactions with my constituents. I will not go through all four of the rules of my town hall meetings, I’ll just give you the fourth rule. This is what I say and I’m sure I’m not going to have this problem with you, even though I say it to my constituents at town halls. So listen, “It’s fine for people to disagree with me. And if you have a disagreeing point of view and I call on ya, stand up and express your disagreement. If you do it in a respectful way, you’ll get respectful disagreement back. However, if you decide that today’s the day that you want to show off for your friends, if you decide that today’s the day that you want to take the Governor of New Jersey out for a walk, I want to explain something to you very clearly, we are all from New Jersey.” [laughter] And that means one simple thing: you give it, you’re gettin’ it back.” So that explains some of my interesting interactions with my constituents, the ones who decide they want to take on that challenge, they have no idea what they’re in for. So, who’s got a question? [scattered laughter] If you dare. Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I’m from Minnesota and a good friend of Tim Pawlenty. And Michele Bachmann is our, my congresswoman. They’re wonderful people, and I love ’em. You’re the first guy that I’ve seen who I know could beat Barack Obama. [audience: “yes!”, cheers and whistles] …And if you love your country as I think you do…[sustained laughter, cheers, applause] …then you’ll rethink what you’ve said.
CHRISTIE: Next question! [loud “woos” and applause] Yes, sir?…
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I don’t have a mic, so I’m gonna be loud. What have you learned in New Jersey that would work [for the U.S.]?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think the [inaudible] part of New Jersey that’ll work in the U.S., are the simple truth that everybody around here knows. I think part of this President’s problem, among many [scattered laughter], is that he tries to make everything so damn complicated. You know, and that there’s some virtue in complexity. And that there’s some sin in simplicity. This is not hard. We spend too much. We borrow too much. We tax too much. It is time to turn those three things around. Now, pain will be inflicted when we change that. People are going to do with less. People who are used to having entitlement at a certain level will not have them at that level anymore. That’s the story. Now, you know, we see what’s happening in Washington right now, Paul Ryan comes out and is courageous and puts forward a plan, a thoughtful plan that he believes will help to fix those systems, and we allow the political system to demagogue this guy. Now, I don’t know if Paul thinks that that’s like the plan and he wouldn’t settle for anything else. I suspect he’s a politician and knows he’s going to have to compromise a little bit, but he’s at least out there presenting the plan, telling the truth as he sees it. These are not complicated problems.
And what I’ve seen in New Jersey, in a state, again, that is a blue state and is predominately Democratic, is folks come up to me all the time and say, “Listen, I don’t agree with everything you do, but man, you’re doin’ it. And I’m glad someone’s finally taken the reins and takin’ charge.” And when I said this morning on Meet the Press about the failure of this President, I mean. Being the executive, and all of you in this room know this, is not a spectator sport. This guy treats it as if, “Oh, let’s see if they can work it out, and if they can, great, if they can’t, well maybe I’ll pay attention at some point.”
I mean, he should have these folks in a room. We know how to solve these problems. This is not a mystery. We’ve had task force after task force. Figuring all…We know the answers. They’re painful answers. We’re going to have to reduce Medicare benefits. We’re going to have to reduce Medicaid benefits. We’re going to have to raise the Social Security age. We’re going to have to do these things. We’re going to have to cut all type of other government programs that some people in this room might like. But we’re gonna have to do it.
And so what I think has worked in New Jersey is, I haven’t tried to sugar-coat it. I said to people, “This is going to hurt and it stinks and I’m sorry. But for 20 years before I got there, people lied to you on a regular basis. And they promised you things they couldn’t deliver and didn’t have any way to pay for.” And so I say all the time, you know, that I feel like the guy who was invited to dinner by all the former living New Jersey governors, and we had this great dinner, like tonight, you know? Great salad, great main course, looks like wonderful dessert [laughter], wine. Wine, and all the rest. And then, right at the moment when the eating was coming to its logical conclusion, they all got up and left and went to the bathroom at the same time. And they never came back. [laughter] And I’m the guy stuck with the bill!
Well, I’m not complaining about it because that’s the job I asked for. I knew we were in bad shape when I ran for this job. I didn’t know it was this bad [laughter], but I knew we were in bad shape. And so, you know, I told people. “It’s going to be painful. It’s going to be difficult. But the sacrifices will be shared by everyone. And we’re going to dig out of this hole together. And when we do, we’re going to feel great about ourselves as a state again.”
And I think if the President of the United States would just have the guts to stand up and say to the people of this country, “Listen, we’re in a big big fix. And everybody’s going to have to pitch in to help. But I’m gonna make sure it’s fair to everybody and make it consistent with principles that are American principles, and I’m going to work with the Republicans to make sure that we do it together,” I think that’s the kind of leadership we’re lookin’ for. I doubt he can provide it. I hope there’s someone out there who will. Because that’s what we need right now and that’s what’s exportable from New Jersey, I think.
Yes, sir. Right there.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Governor, how does it feel [inaudible]
CHRISTIE: Well, it is, it is … all the things I’ve talked to you about tonight, are merely the prelude to the biggest fight. And the biggest fight is to reform an education system that is built for the comfort of adults not for the challenge of children.
And it’s built that way because we have tenure system that says after three years and a day, you have a job for life. And that there’s no accountability for how well you’re doin’ your job or how poorly. I mean, let’s face it, everybody. There are only two professions left in America where there are no rewards for failure and no – no rewards for success – and no consequences for failure. Maybe three, if you include Congress. [laughter] But there are only two left: teachers and weathermen. [laughter] Now, with weathermen it usually means an inconvenience, you know? Like you take the umbrella and it doesn’t rain, or vice versa. Right? Teacher’s a whole different thing. You know, the educational establishment of New Jersey says, “He’s too impatient. He’s too brusque. He’s too blunt.” Guess what? I am impatient. ‘Cuz my daughter, she only has one year in the third grade. When she’s got a lousy teacher up at the front of that classroom, she’s behind when she goes to fourth grade. And fifth grade. And sixth grade. And unless she has an extraordinary teacher or I pay for tutors, she’s never catchin’ up.
Now, we see this in the cities in my state everywhere. In the city of Newark we spend $24,000 per pupil per year. And of the kids who went to the ninth grade this year in Newark, 23% of them will graduate with a high school degree in four years. Twenty-three percent. And of that 23%, 90% of them have to take remedial class work for a year to qualify to sit in a college classroom.
In the city of Asbury Park we spend nearly $30,000 per pupil per year for the public schools. And in the Asbury Park high school less than 50% of the students can do math at an eighth grade level.
My party sometimes thinks I’m crazy talkin’ about this, cause they say, “Chris, you’ve got like 25 votes in Newark. Ya know, what are you spending all this political capital on places that don’t vote for you?” What I said to ’em is, “No life is disposable anywhere in New Jersey. No life is disposable.” [applause]
So I want to pay teachers more. I want to pay the good ones more. I want to carry ’em on our shoulders to school every day because they’re building America’s future leaders. But in return I want the lousy ones shown the door. They don’t belong in the teaching profession and they’re hurting our children. And I don’t understand why this is so difficult. It is because we care more about how we’re perceived by the teaching profession than we care about the results.
There’s nobody in this room who runs a successful business who says, tells an employee after three years and a day — I’m sure this doesn’t happen at Koch Industries — where they call ’em in after three years and a day and say, “Hey, you have been great for three years and a day, and guess what? You have a job here at Koch Industries for the rest of your life. Congratulations!” Man, they wouldn’t be runnin’ this thing if they did that. Okay? [laughter]
But this is the way we’re running our schools. We need to get rid of tenure. We need to pay people based upon performance. We need to have more charter schools. We need to have educational choice so the children in failing districts and their families, that their future, that their destiny, is not determined by their economic circumstances and their zip code. It’s just not right. And so we need to do these things and that’s where we head next. We’ve taken care of the first two big of the big things, at least for the moment, and now the third big thing is we need to take on the teachers’ union once and for all and we need to decide, who is determining our children’s future? Who is running this place? Them or us? I say it’s us, and we’ve got to go fight to do it now. [applause, cheers, whistling] Thank you. All right. The New Jersey crew in the back is telling me I can take one more question. [scattered laughter] And then I got to go.
Yes, sir. Over here in the corner.
Thank you. Uh, I think you’re just an incredible leader for a dysfunctional government, I mean…
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: Thank you. [laughter]
AUDIENCE QUESTION (con’t): …No question about it. I think your skill sets and your examples are what a lot of the northeast states need to do, and and I’m from Texas, but I’m just saying I think that [laughter] the dysfunctional …
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I know, Texas, Texas… [laughter] You guys are great, fabulous, right there. [laughter] Don’t mess with Texas. Okay, go ahead…
AUDIENCE QUESTION (con’t): …But the question is, what about now the moral issue about the free enterprise, the freedoms that America gives us, that part of it. I know it’s going to have to be maybe another, I can understand how you don’t run. My gosh, you have enough there to take your good time at, to correct, but you know, where does the next message come from where you say, “All right, let’s make sure free enterprise goes. Let’s make sure people…You know, I had…northeast people, and I [inaudible] Christmas, I’m sorry…
CHRISTIE: I, I’m [gonna approach?] this guy… Everybody stay seated, but northeast people – let’s go! [a bit of cheering] I’m from Jersey, man. Don’t mess!…
AUDIENCE QUESTION (con’t): …But you know those guys, that, “You know why are you so…Why are you always so, you know, gregarious and happy and so forth?” And he’s like, “Well in Texas, we can do things.” And this guy was, ya know, stuck in a job but, you know, he didn’t have any future… [audience members starts yelling for man to ask “Question! Question!”…] … And the question is…What’s the whole point… of where you’re going to take free enterprise? I know you’re taking this dysfunctional government, you’re taking care of that, but where are we going to push the dysfuncti- I mean, the free enterprise system?
CHRISTIE: Well, listen. First of all, there’s lots of people from Texas here, right? A few at least? [some whistles and murmurs] So let’s dispense with this first. We all love Texas, okay? [one “whoo” in audience] The greatest place in the world, it’s wonderful, it’s fabulous, it’s amazing. We all love Texas. Great. So we dispense with that first. Second… [laughter], dysfunctional government? If you want the free enterprise system to thrive and grow and be available to everybody, then the first thing you have to do is clean out the dysfunctional governments around America. That’s the first thing you need to do. Because dysfunctional governments are like the wet blanket on top of free enterprise and opportunity. Because all they do is layer regulation and taxes and burdens on all those people who just wanted opportunities to use their God-given gifts and their ambition and their vision to try to improve their lives and through that, improve the lives of other people. But if you have dysfunctional government that stands in the way, you can’t do that.
And so, what’s the next step? Well, I haven’t gone through the first step yet. The first step is to clean out this dysfunctional government and make it functional. Then once you make it functional, then we can turn New Jersey to the idea of how do we take a functional government and make it an efficient and effective government? It’s a step process. I mean, this stuff’s been goin’ on for decades in my state. Let’s remember something. New Jersey’s getting’ a lot of good publicity lately with the stuff we’re doing. I’m thrilled about. But remember, like two years ago we were basically known for The Sopranos, The Real Housewives of New Jersey and, God forbid, The Jersey Shore [scattered laughter and one hoot]. So this is an evolutionary process, ladies and gentleman. [laughter, applause] I’m we’re just, we’re just getting out from under [inaudible] and The Situation. Okay? This is not easy. Tony Soprano is like right around the corner. So we have to take it step by step.
And one of the things that we risk when we talk about wanting to do great things is to set for ourselves a pathway to failure. Because we set people’s expectations too high too soon. Not their aspirations, their aspirations should always be high. But their expectations. And so I think, part of the answer to your question is, I keep folks in New Jersey thinking in a realistic way about this. We’ve had years of dysfunction, years of over-taxing, years of over-spending. I’m not fixing it in 18 months. I’m making progress towards fixing it. But, it’s not there yet. And it’s going to take me some time to fix it. But once we get that underway, I will tell you that I think New Jersey, and I’m definitely being parochial here, but allow me a moment of parochialism in a sea of Texas parochialism [laughter], we’ve got some pretty great assets in New Jersey. We have more Ph.D.s in New Jersey than any state in America. We have a great infrastructure. We have the shore, the mountains, great tourism. We have a lot of great things in our state. One of America’s greatest public college[?] systems. It’s a great place. But government has just stamped it down. And we need to get government off of it so they can do the natural growth again that will come when people can have that ambition and exercise that opportunity.
So, ya know, in the end, part of realistic and effective leadership in any organization is to always set aspirational goals but also to set in the interim realistic, achievable benchmarks. So we keep people encouraged, feeling good about themselves. Feeling like they’re making progress, like they’re getting somewhere. And so we’ve got to be careful in New Jersey not to let this thing get out of control. And that’s part of the reason why I’m stayin’ there and makin’ sure that we finish the job that we started. Because, you know, in politics too often folks see their politicians and they say, “Yeah, they say they want this job but they’re always lookin’ for the next one and the next one.” And ambition is fine, but if ambition causes you to break your word to people, then it’s not a virtue it’s a vice. [applause]
So I’m gonna get on a plane and go back to New Jersey. And fight the next four days over the budget that we need to pass between now and June 30th. Then they’re proposing “The Millionaires Tax” again. You know, I cannot believe how stupid these people are. [scattered laughter] I really can’t… They keep… Like, you saw this movie last year! You know how it’s gonna end! I’m going to make the pizza joke…I’m it’s like…you know how this ends! [laughter] I’m not re-inventing the wheel, it worked last time! Let’s do the same damn thing again!
So I’m going to go back and fight that fight. But I please, I really, I beg of you, that you need to be engaged when you leave here. It’s great to be engaged when you’re here, and we all feel a sense… sitting and listening to Charles’ presentation today about the level of crisis that our country’s in and the opportunity that’s presented to us to be a part of the solution. But sometimes when folks leave events like this, the enthusiasm and the focus fades and we forget our mission. We get distracted by the everyday things that life puts in front of us.
Please, if you leave with just one message from me, if only one message sticks, this is a huge moment of crisis and opportunity for our country. All of you are the people who are going to lead us back to American greatness. If you care enough to do it. I can tell you, if you do, you’ve got a friend in that fight and I will be waitin’ for you in New Jersey to come and fight it with you and every once in awhile get on a plane and come fight it someplace else, too. Thank you all very much. [sustained applause]