Chris Christie, on the brink of announcing a possible run for president, used his annual New Jersey agenda-setting speech to lament Americans’ anxieties over the economy and call for smaller government at every level.
The second-term Republican told lawmakers in his State of the State address that the U.S. is a country “ill at ease.” He criticized politicians inWashington for a “pattern of indecision and inconsistency” that he said has called into question America’s leadership globally.
“During this time of uncertainty it seems our leaders in Washington would rather stoke division for their own political gain,” Christie said. He assured the crowd that he would be standing in the same place in a year, a reference to questions about whether he would give up his job to seek higher office.
Christie, 52, starting his sixth year as governor, repeatedly raised national issues as he outlined his plan for a state still clawing out from the U.S. recession that ended in June 2009. Its unemployment rate, at 6.4 percent in November, 0.8 percent more than the national average, has contributed to eight credit-rating downgrades, a record for a New Jersey governor.
Forty-seven percent of registered New Jersey voters disapprove of Christie, versus 39 percent who approve, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll released today. Only 36 percent are pleased with the state’s direction.
Throughout the speech, Christie turned to themes that raised his appeal as a Republican willing to stand up to Democrats on issues such as taxes even as he worked alongside them on social issues.
Christie criticized Democratic lawmakers for resisting his calls to make state employees pay more for pension and health benefits. He praised ex-Governor Jim McGreevey, a Democrat, for his work preparing drug offenders for employment after incarceration.
“Every life is an individual gift from God and no life is disposable,” Christie said. In the next year, he said, the state will direct addicts to immediate treatment services, and then will expand to people who have mental illness.
He referred to his history of balancing the budget -- a constitutional requirement -- and “streamlined economic development efforts” that drew investments of more than $12 billion.
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, the highest-ranking elected Democrat in Trenton, said the speech was devoid of ideas for the state.
“He’s running for president -- that’s what it sounded like to me,” Sweeney told reporters “That’s fine, but he needs to focus on New Jersey, too.”
As he’s done in the past, Christie brought up a conversation with an 82-year-old woman in Florida whom he didn’t name. She asked him, he said, “What’s happened to our country? We used to control events. Now events control us.”
The anecdote stirred Assemblyman Troy Singleton, a Democrat from Mount Laurel.
“The governor was able to quote a conversation he had with someone from Vero Beach, Florida, but he couldn’t quote someone from Verona, New Jersey,” Singleton said in an interview. “That shows you a lot about where his focus has been.”
Three hours before the speech, a crowd of about 100 rallied in the front of the statehouse in what they called a “people’s address,” criticizing five years of Christie policies as favoring corporations and the wealthy over the middle class. Most troubling, speakers said, was the state’s economy and ongoing home foreclosures.
One sign read: “If We Were the Cowboys, Would You Cheer For Us?” a reference to the governor’s attendance at six of the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys games, including five in the luxury box of team owner Jerry Jones.
The demonstration was organized by groups including state chapters of Citizen Action, the Working Families Alliance, the National Organization for Women and the Sierra Club as well as labor unions representing teachers and state employees. Some participants identified themselves as victims of Hurricane Sandy, Democratic activists, college students and environmentalists.
Fifty-three percent of voters say Christie is more concerned with a potential run for president than he in his job as governor, the PublicMind poll found.
“These numbers point to the difficulty the governor is likely to have with the public as the clock moves toward 2016. Governing and campaigning are both full-time jobs,” poll director Krista Jenkins said in a statement. “Even though he’s technically not doing the latter yet, the public seems to believe he’s already starting to give up on the former.”
As he did in past years, Christie cited Camden and Newark, two of the state’s poorest cities, as examples of a turnaround, with publicly funded private schools boosting education and incentives drawing residential and corporate development.
“We need a New Jersey renewal and an American renewal,” he said.
Some Christie themes, including references to bipartisan cooperation and resistance to higher taxes, were signals that “played up to conservative Republican voters and the donor class,” Brigid Harrison, a professor of law and politics at Montclair State University, said by telephone.
“The governor is unconcerned about public opinion in New Jersey,” she said.