Christie talks government, economy
Published: Monday, November 21, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 05:11
Nearly 30 years ago, when Chris Christie began his term as student government president at the university, the now-governor of New Jersey had ambitious plans for his administration.
He wanted to improve relations with minority students, tackle students' financial aid issues and redefine the mission of the Delaware Undergraduate Student Congress, now known as the Student Government Association.
"I see opportunities to do some things that have never been done before," Christie said in a 1983 interview with The Review. "I think it's about time that the student government becomes proactive rather than reactive. We have been a good reactive group, but we now need to be an initiator."
Almost three decades later, with growing approval rates among New Jersey voters and whispers of a presidential run in 2016, Christie returned to the university Wednesday night to deliver the semester's final National Agenda lecture. Since he took office two years ago, Christie has been criticized for his brash, take-no-prisoners approach, but during his speech Wednesday, the governor said his style is based on making decisions when others refuse to.
"That's what leadership is," Christie said. "You don't wait in a crisis for other people to act. You act. It doesn't always mean you're going to be right but you don't wait. You don't look for others to solve the problems that you've been elected to fix."
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed that Christie's approval rating is approximately 56 percent among registered voters in New Jersey, while 38 percent of voters disapprove of his performance. The approval rating is down 2 percentage points from October, though the margin is statistically insignificant because of potential polling error. The latest rating is 12-point bump from his 44 percent approval rating in a June Quinnipiac poll.
Christie said Wednesday that being a Republican governor in a traditionally Democratic state is like "playing with house money," and said he has had to work around the New Jersey legislature. In the Nov. 8 election, the Democrats maintained their control of the state Senate with a 24-16 majority and gained one seat in the state assembly, with a 48-38 majority.
Called a "bully and a punk" by state Senate president Steve Sweeney in July, Christie said he has used his executive powers to bypass the legislature when the state government was on the verge of being unable to make payroll in early 2010.
Christie said he had the option of declaring a fiscal emergency via the state's Disaster Control Act and handle the issue or try to negotiate with the legislature to make cuts.
"Now for those of you who've watched me for two years, if you believe the answer to that question is negotiate with the legislature, you need to leave now," he said. "You're not smart enough to be in this room."
Christie indeed declared the fiscal emergency and used his executive powers to make cuts to the budget and compound $2.2 billion in spending.
Over his last two years in office, some cuts have become deeply unpopular with constituents, and Christie cited his $820 million cut from K-12 education and $175 million cut from higher education as particularly unpopular measures for fiscal year 2011.
However, he said they were necessary to get the state's fiscal house in order.
"We were in some ways the canary in the coal mine for what's happening now in the rest of the country," Christie said.
During Wednesday's speech and question-and-answer session, Christie alternated between detailing the state's economic troubles and telling anecdotes about friends, family and a chance encounter with "Sopranos" actor James Gandolfini.
While introducing Christie, Ralph Begleiter, the event moderator and director of the university's Center for Political Communication, took a fake phone call from Snooki from "Jersey Shore."
Christie is famously opposed to the show's portrayal of his home state. The show was given $420,000 in tax credits for filming in New Jersey, and Christie revoked those credits in September.
He said Wednesday that the show portrays New Jerseyans as "uncouth dopes," even though few of the "Jersey Shore" cast members are actually from the state.
"They're from New York," Christie said. "Snooki is from Poughkeepsie, The Situation from Staten Island. They parachuted these losers into New Jersey, and they want to make all of you believe they're New Jerseyans. They're not. And I've told [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo a number of times, ‘Take them back.'"
Earlier this fall, rumors emerged that Christie would throw his hat into the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Begleiter likened Christie's attitude in the early fall to "flirting" with running, but the governor disagreed.
"Ralph said I traveled the country in the fall flirting with running for president," he said. "Let me correct that—they were flirting with me. I said all along I wasn't going to run and they just wouldn't leave me alone."