New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will probably remember 2016 as the worst year of his career. It started with a presidential run that he thought would cut his time in Trenton short and ended with him as a lame duck governor with no prospects for getting out of New Jersey.
But, with a new year comes new opportunity. In 2017, Governor Christie has a chance to redeem himself and, at the very least, up his approval rating from the paltry 18 percent where it currently sits before he leaves the governor’s office around this time next year.
Here are some of the ways Christie can strengthen his reputation in 2017:
1. Stay in the state. A big part of why Christie’s reputation crumbled in New Jersey in 2016 is that the sitting governor seemed to have little interest in the state he was supposed to be governing. Between his own presidential run and his time as a surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump, Christie spent a record number of days outside of New Jersey in 2016. In order to build trust with Garden State residents, Christie should make it a point to elevate his personal presence in New Jersey over the next 12 months.
2. Work with Democrats. In the early stages of his governorship, Christie was hailed by Democrats as a solid communicator willing to work across the aisle on key issues. However, once Christie expanded his ambitions outside of New Jersey, he drifted farther and farther away from being the governor who was able to wrack up countless Democratic endorsements in his 2013 re-election campaign. As his national profile grew, Christie began to favor thinking that would appeal to the broadest base of Republicans nationwide, not necessarily those in New Jersey. Now that his presidential run is over, Christie has the opportunity to evaluate every issue on the table for what it brings to the state, not how it might impact the nation’s perspective of him. With that mindset, Christie might be able to negotiate with Democrats on issues like pensions, equal pay and gun control that have failed in recent months, much as he did on the recently implemented gas tax.
3. Repair his relationship with the media. Christie has not taken questions from the press in 119 days. In order to rebuild public trust, Christie could go a long way by facilitating an open and honest discussion with the press. By avoiding the public eye, Christie makes it seem like he is hiding something. His final year provides the governor’s last opportunity to prove that he is not.
4. Avoid vindictive/petty moves. For Christie, trouble with the public started when it started to look like much of the governor’s actions were part of a vindictive streak. In 2013, his appointees at the Port Authority were first revealed to have potentially used PA property to punish a mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election in the fiasco that came to be known as “Bridgegate.” Even so, the governor has not seemed to take a step back from actions that portray him s a vindictive governor. He ended his 2016 by pushing for a bill that would have stripped newspapers of significant revenue by eliminating the requirement that legal notices be published online. Many—including declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Wisniewski—claim that move was a move of “revenge” against media for coverage of the 2016 Bridgegate trial. Before that he called a press conference seemingly to announce his future with the Trump administration, but instead trolled the media by announcing a statehouse renovation instead. If Christie wants people to respect him again, he needs to stop these moves and start proving that he isn’t the type of guy who would have sicked his Port Authority appointees against a mayor he didn’t like.
5. Exercise restraint. While Christie may have risen to national notoriety for incidents including telling a reporter to “Sit down and shut up,” it seems that the governor’s self-described “tell it like it is” style has grown tired in New Jersey. As the gubernatorial candidates gear up for the 2017 race, none of them are pushing a style similar to the one that made Christie famous. In 2017, Christie should aim to avoid such public displays of disdain.
6. Use his Trump connection to benefit New Jersey. Christie was the first high-profile establishment Republican to enter Trump’s camp in the 2016 race. He has remained loyal to the now President-elect, even in the face of criticism from fellow Republicans and Democrats. While, initially, it appeared that Christie would be able to leverage that connection into a cabinet spot, now that is is clear the governor will be staying in New Jersey, the Trump connection provides an opportunity for the governor to get national attention for New Jersey issues.
7. Rebuild New Jersey’s Republican brand… or at least not tear down other Republicans. While it seems unlikely that a lame duck governor with an 18 percent approval rating will have much clout when it comes to something like making an endorsement in the June Republican primary, the governor could make a positive impact on the NJ Republican contest simply by not stepping all over his fellow Republicans. At the November League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, Christie stepped in last minute to take over likely candidate Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno’s time in the spotlight and deliver the keynote speech in her place. By avoiding similar moves in 2017, Christie could rebuild some goodwill. Another way to rebuild goodwill for Christie would be make appearances at local Republican events during his final year in office. He has long avoided local events but local county party members would surely look more favorably on the departing governor in his final year if he made an effort to reach out.
8. Keep his word in Atlantic City. Christie fought hard in 2016 to coordinate a state takeover of Atlantic City. As he ends his term, Christie could go a long way by keeping his eye on the casino town and proving that the much-debated takeover was the right move. In order to do this, Christie could regularly update the public, work with Atlantic City officials and maintain communication with Jeff Chiesa, the former state senator Christie appointed to lead the takeover effort.
9. Continue his work helping those with drug addiction. While Christie spent much of his time in 2016 away from New Jersey, when he was in the state the governor focused heavily on helping those dealing with drug addiction and recovery efforts. In New Jersey—and in much of the nation—drug addiction is an epidemic. By focusing on efforts like Narcan administration, needle-exchange programs, pushing for increased funds and attempting to change the narrative from one of scorn to viewing addiction as illness, Christie’s best chance of being remembered positively hinges on him continuing his hard work on the issue.
10. Educate public about important issues. Christie started his public career as a U.S. Attorney from the District of New Jersey. With that background, the governor has the potential to be a voice on issues like national security. He could use his post as governor to advocate and speak about important national issues, as long as he doesn’t lose sight of his final year in the state.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.