By John Celock
In a speech designed to target a national audience for his likely presidential campaign, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) highlighted what he saw was the need for an “American renewal.”
Christie’s State of the State address Tuesday focused on a recap on the themes that have dominated his governorship over the last five years, including a lengthy recap of where he said the state has grown since he took office. In addition, Christie used portions of the speech to talk about what he’s learned during his national political travel. Christie, who chaired the Republican Governors Association in 2014, is likely to soon announce a 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
“I believe in a New Jersey renewal which can help lead to an American renewal both in every individual home and in homes around the world,” Christie said.
Christie highlighted the twin themes of the American renewal and a New Jersey renewal during his speech. He told New Jersey lawmakers though that he has heard from people around the country, including those in Maryland, Kansas, Georgia and Arkansas about what he said is “anxiety” over the direction of the country during his national travels.
During the speech he highlighted a story he said that came from while shaking hands in Florida.
“But the wisest words came from an 82 year old woman in Florida,” he said. “She grabbed my hand and asked me a simple, but powerful question: ‘What’s happened to our country? We used to control events. Now events control us.’ But right here, in this great state, we have the tools to get back on track.”
Christie moved back to themes he has used in the past, talking about how he and the Democratic controlled Legislature in New Jersey have worked together on various issues including a property tax cap, teacher tenure reform and changes to public employee pensions and benefits and said similar work is needed in Washington.
He used the address to say that the lack of bipartisanship in Washington has hurt the country internationally.
“America’s leadership in the world is called into question because of a pattern of indecision and inconsistency,” Christie said. “During this time of uncertainty it seems our leaders in Washington would rather stoke division for their own political gain. And this culture of divisiveness and distrust has seeped into our communities and our neighborhoods.”
In terms of policy, Christie focused much of his speech on drug treatment issues, including calling for less incarceration of those convicted of drug crimes and instead a focus on treating drug addiction. He noted a commitment to creating new programs for those exiting prison to gain job training and employment and remain free of addiction.
In keeping with the bipartisan theme of his address, Christie praised former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) for working with him on the reentry issues. McGreevey, who resigned in 2004, now serves in Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s (D) cabinet focusing on job training and prisoner reentry issues.
Christie also highlighted the need to make changes to public employee pensions and to embrace education reform.
In a part of the speech aimed to highlight his bipartisan record, Christie focused on his work in Camden, including a change over the local police department, which he said lowered crime in a city deemed the most dangerous in the country. Christie on several occasions noted his working relationship with Camden Mayor Dana Redd (D) and the Democratic-controlled Camden County government on issues in the city.
Christie has long had a close relationship with Democratic leaders in South Jersey, which includes Camden.
Christie did not directly mention the state legislative investigation into the 2013 closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge and whether his former deputy chief of staff ordered the closure as an act of political revenge. But he made thinly veiled attacks on leaders of the investigative committee.
“In a year with plenty of politics from some overly partisan corners of this chamber, New Jersey has made progress, growing our economy, creating jobs, reforming our criminal justice system, and improving some of our most challenged cities, like Camden,” Christie said. “We’ve done it because a majority of us care more about our state and New Jersey’s middle class than we do about scoring partisan political points.”
Christie had used much of the beginning of the speech to focus on his record over five years and veiled attacks on his predecessor, former Gov. Jon Corzine (D), who he defeated in the 2009 election. Christie has made attacks on Corzine’s record a common theme of his in speeches throughout his governorship.
Christie focused parts of the speech to focus on tax cuts he has enacted and drew a line in the sand saying that he would veto any income tax increase that came to his desk. He also told lawmakers that the state needs to change its economic development model away from incentives and towards more tax cuts. He said that leaders of Mercedes Benz said one reason the auto company left the state was due to taxes.
Christie’s tax rhetoric was similar in scope to other Republican governors around the country, who have called for lower taxes in order to grow the state economy.
Christie also used the speech to shoot down rumors that he would resign the governorship in order to seek the presidency, saying that he will deliver a State of the State address in January 2016.
“When we stand here in one year, and by the way I’ll be standing here in one year,” he said.