By John Celock
In his first town hall meeting with New Hampshire voters Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) called for unlimited campaign donations with stricter reporting requirements as he all but formally announces his expected 2016 presidential campaign.
Christie, who is wrapping up a two day tour of the Granite State, used the town hall meeting to highlight a series of issues, including distancing himself from President Barack Obama on foreign policy, outlining a need for states to play a bigger role in health care and education policy and the new rules for campaign finance. Christie used the forum to bring one of his signature communication styles from New Jersey to the national stage as he prepares to enter the GOP presidential ring.
“We all talk about too much money in politics. The problem is that we have to communicate,” Christie said in response to a question about campaign finance. “That gets increasingly expensive. What is corrupting in this is when you don’t know where the money is coming from.”
Christie said that addressing campaign finance reform can either be done through full public funding of campaign with taxpayer funds or through unlimited donations. Christie, who accepted public matching funds in his 2009 and 2013 gubernatorial efforts, said that he opposes full public financing, saying that he does not believe that tax funds should go towards politics.
Christie instead outlined a system where unlimited campaign donations can be made to candidates but candidates would have to disclose donations within 24 hours to increase transparency. He said the disclosures would be on federal campaign finance databases and on the candidate’s website.
Christie also called fundraising the “most distasteful part” of being an elected official and highlighted that he has fundraised for both his own campaigns and during his 2014 tenure as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He said that to him the key is to not listen to what donors tell him to do as governor.
“You have be a professional ingrate,” Christie said. “You have to take people’s money and not do what they want you to do.”
The town hall was more relaxed and calmer than many of his recent town halls in New Jersey. In the New Jersey town halls, Christie has routinely been confronted by public school teachers opposed to his education policies, including signing a bill in 2011 to require teachers and other public employees to contribute to their health insurance costs, along with a new push to overhaul public employee pensions in the state. Christie regularly becomes combative with teachers who confront him during the town halls. The governor has long had a practically nonexistent relationship with New Jersey’s largest teachers union.
While Christie was not confronted by teachers during the New Hampshire town hall, he continued his war against the teachers’ union during questions on education policy. Christie called for increased local control of education policy, saying that communities need to decide what is best for them and not the federal government.
Among the education issues Christie touched on include longer school days and years, arguing that in his home state, urban school districts such as Newark and Camden need the longer education periods to address student performance. He said that the longer days and years may not be needed in the suburban and rural parts of the state. Christie said that he is being opposed by the union.
“We can’t have the teachers’ union holding us hostage to have summer vacation,” Christie said.
Christie used the town hall to target colleges over rising tuition rates. He noted that he and his wife, Mary Pat, pay $61,000 a year in tuition for his daughter to attend Notre Dame. He said the problem is that market forces do not exist in higher education and colleges can build new buildings and hire new staff at any point and not worry about the overall market. He said it is “obscene” for students to walk away with six-figure debts from college.
“We need to start a national conversation with our colleges and universities about cost control,” Christie said.
Christie told the crowd that he had not made a final decision about making a presidential run, saying that he was waiting until after the New Jersey budget is finalized in June. But he spent the entire town hall sounding like a presidential candidate, tackling issues not normally discussed under the golden dome in Trenton, including terrorism, policy towards Iran, Social Security and allowing Wyoming to design a health care plan different from New Jersey.
Christie stressed the need though for a president who can compromise and work with others in what he said is a “pragmatic” manner. He said that he admired former President Ronald Reagan’s leadership style, saying that Reagan knew how to work with others. Christie did not focus on his own dealings with New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled Legislature, a focus of many of his past speeches about national politics.
“You need to be confident to compromise,” Christie said. “The person who lacks confidence is the person who digs their feet in and doesn’t move.”