Governor Chris Christie, the wunderkind of the New Jersey GOP, hit a major pothole this past week. New Jersey’s application for the Race to the Top federal education money failed by a handful of points to get NJ into the program. The proximate cause – as trumpeted by his political opponents – was a “clerical error” that had wrong numbers in a critical part of the application. The end result – New Jersey failed to make the minimum number of point to qualify by 3 points out of 500 or so. At first, the governor blamed Washington and the Dept of Education. The DoE then turned around and released a video of the NJ team’s conference that contradicted Governor Christie’s version of events. Claiming that the NJ Education Secretary had mislead him, the Governor then sacked Secretary Bret Schundler. Bret Schundler is now claiming that he told Governor Christie the truth and that he had the emails to prove it. In the meantime, the NJ Democratically-controlled legislature is making political hay after having been battered and bruised by Gov. Christie for most of the year. And the story’s not over yet…
Will this matter in the long run, though? The governor’s lost a major fight already; the property tax cap battle ended with his desired goal, a referendum on a hard 2.5% cap placed in the NJ Constitution, unattained. Instead, a loophole-riddled compromise law was enacted (municipalities may not increase property taxes more than 2.0%, save in “emergencies”, which include servicing debt…) On the other hand, one of the reasons that former-Governor John Corzine lost was that he was widely viewed as indecisive and unable to stand up to the Trenton special interest mobs. Governor Christie has famously claimed he’s governing as though he’s going to be a one-term governor, and has yet to flinch from a conflict. I doubt he’s going to back down from this one, either. In the end, New Jersey’s schools are a local concern, not a statewide concern. The NJEA may have made Chris Christie their #1 enemy, but they’re only one of his many targets. And by sacking Schundler, Gov. Christie is demonstrating he’s not going to put up with incompetence on his own team. Finally, he can come out fighting against the NJEA. Their intransigence on reform cost many more points on the application than the “clerical error” cost.
Plus, Gov. Christie’s team has demonstrated a command of new media usually found on the other side. In NJ, it’s the Democrats that are the dinosaurs. Christie is an amazing spontaneous speaker, and his powerful speeches, statements, and events pop up on Youtube almost before he’s done speaking. He has a knack for making his opponents looks like whiners. His opponents depend on control of the legacy media, and Christie is bypassing the gatekeepers (which is another reason they hate him).
Normally, New Jersey politics is, at best, a spectator sport for the parts of NY and PA that have TV and radio stations that serve NJ as well. But in this case, Governor Christie’s name has been brought up as a potential presidential contender in 2012. So, for those of you out there in the Lands of the More Free, what do you think? Is this playing in Peoria, and if so, how’s it being spun?
Edit: This was for the second round of funding, and the actual winners can be found here