New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will announce on Tuesday at his former high school in Livingston, New Jersey that he will enter the already-crowded pool of Republican candidates vying for the presidency.
While the two-term governor and former chair of the Republican Governors Association gained a national reputation early in his tenure for his brash demeanor and tendency to say whatever comes to mind, his leadership of the Garden State should be a better indication of how he would lead the country.
Christie’s administration drew widespread criticism when it closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge as an act of retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee who refused to endorse the governor’s re-election bid. Christie continues to maintain that he was not involved, although aides have said he was aware of the incident that caused massive traffic jams and impeded public safety for a week. Earlier this year, one of the governor’s closest allies plead guilty to participating in the scheme, admitting the actions were taken as retribution, and two others faced charges. Christie has also been targeted for scrapping a tunnel project which would have alleviated New Jersey residents’ commutes, just because he did not want to raise the gas tax.
While Christie’s scandals have dominated the headlines, many have paid little attention to his actual track record as the chief executive of New Jersey. But he has very few actual accomplishments in his state to highlight on the campaign trail — after winning reelection by a wide margin, a recent poll found that two-thirds of New Jersey residents think Christie’s accomplishments for the state have been minor or minimal and his approval rating recently reached an all-time low.
New Jersey’s economy has taken a hit since Christie assumed office. The current 6.5 percent unemployment rate in New Jersey is worse than the national average and the state’s long-term unemployed rate is worse than 48 states. In his five years in the governor’s mansion, the state’s credit rating fell nine times, making it the second worst among the states.
He also reduced the earned income tax credit and vetoed legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour, calling the legislation “truly ridiculous” before voters approved an increase in November.
Christie has also driven the state to the brink of a pension disaster. Although the state Supreme Court recently ruled in his favor and let him off the hook for $1.57 billion in payments, the state’s public sector unions continue to insist that he make the promised pension payments to 800,000 of the state’s working and retired public sector employees. New Jersey’s pension system is currently $80 billion in the red, but the governor proposed even more cuts in his most recent budget.
And when you look at the actual policies he has endorsed and look beyond his botched handling of long-term Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, Christie is much more conservative than the bipartisan dealmaker he makes himself out to be.
Charged with setting up the state’s exchange under the Affordable Care Act which was signed by Obama early in Christie’s first year, the governor decided to pass. “I will not ask New Jerseyans to commit today to a state-based exchange when the federal government cannot tell us what it will cost, how that cost compares to other options and how much control they will give the states over this option that comes at the cost of our state’s taxpayers,” he said in a statement in 2012 when he vetoed for a second time legislation directing his administration to set up an exchange.
Without a resume of accomplishments under his belt as governor, maybe it’s easier to look at what Christie has not allowed past his desk.
Christie has vetoed a bill that would expand early voting (calling the proposal “hasty, counterproductive and less reliable” than the current system), vetoed a ban on the Barrett .50 caliber rifle after pressure from gun rights advocates and vetoed a bill to prevent gender wage discrimination in public contracts.
He also cut $7.4 billion in family planning funding intended for Planned Parenthood from the state budget — money that provided health care services like mammograms to women — even though the program never funded abortions.
Christie has also remained firm on his opposition to gay marriage. “If my children came to me and said they were gay I would grab them and hug them and tell them I love them,” Christie said in an October 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial debate. “I would also tell them that your dad believes that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
On abortion, the New Jersey governor was pro-choice until 1996 when he said he heard his soon-to-be-born daughter’s heartbeat through an ultrasound. “It led to me having a real reflection on my position and when I took time to reflect on it I just said you know what? I’m not comfortable with that anymore… and I’ve been pro-life ever since,” Christie said on CNN in 2011.
The governor also enacted strict quarantine practices for New Jersey when Ebola fears in the U.S. peaked last fall, raising questions about how he’d handle public health issues as president. Kaci Hickox, a nurse who was being quarantined, became involved in a bitter dispute with Christie over the policy which kept her confined despite the advice of public health experts.
On a few issues, Christie is less conservative than some of his Republican rivals. Last year, he signed the New Jersey DREAM Act to extend in-state tuition at public universities to undocumented students.
And even though he opposes legalizing marijuana, Christie has actually proved himself to be progressive on drug abuse. He recently announced two efforts to help abusers get clean – a phone number for those looking for help and an expansion of the prisoner reentry program.
Unlike his Republican opponents, he does not deny the existence of climate change and has said that human activity plays a role in global climate changes. But nevertheless, he has taken little action to improve the issue and in 2011, he said New Jersey would not participate in a Northeastern regional plan to cut carbon emissions.