Seeking an upper hand in a crowded GOP presidential election field, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is calling for an uppercut to his old political foe.
In an Aug. 2 interview with Christie, CNN’s Jake Tapper referred to the governor’s previous remarks that he liked to deal with bullies with a “punch in the face” rather than by accommodating them. Tapper asked which group at the national level deserved to be socked in the kisser. Without hesitation, Christie responded, “Oh, the national teachers’ union.” Watch his remarks in the video courtesy of CNN.
Christie went on to say that the unions are the “most destructive force” in public education today because they prioritize growing membership and increasing pay and benefits for their members over educating children.
“I’ve been saying that since 2009. I’ve got the scars to show it,” he told Tapper.
Christie didn’t single out either the AFT or the NEA by name, but he did refer derisively to the AFT’s decision to endorse Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, an endorsement that my coworker Stephen Sawchuk wrote about last month.
UPDATE: Within about 24 hours, both the AFT and the NEA responded to Christie’s remarks. They turned the playground analogy around and referred to Christie as the real bully who was unfairly attacking teachers. Here’s AFT President Randi Weingarten:
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) August 2, 2015
And here’s the response from NEA President Lily Eskelen Garcia:
— Lily Eskelsen García (@Lily_NEA) August 3, 2015
Not to be outdone, the New Jersey Education Association blasted Christie as well:
— NJEA (@NJEA) August 2, 2015
No Love Lost for Christie, Unions
The Garden State battles between teachers’ unions and Christie are legion. Just to name a recent example, Christie recently prevailed in court over the unions over his decision not to make state payments to the pension system for public employees in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Union members charged in their ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit that the governor broke state law by not making
those payments, in exchange for the unions’ agreement to increase members’ contributions towards their retirement benefits.
Other disagreements between the unions and Christie include changes to teacher tenure, which the governor has wanted to end, merit pay, and cuts to the K-12 budget. (Sawchuk wrote a comprehensive article about Christie’s early education record back in 2010.)
Christie has called unions “bullies” in the past, and has railed against what he calls their forced collection of unions dues to create a “political slush fund” on the campaign trail since he declared his 2016 candidacy in June.
As of early Sunday afternoon, there were no responses on social media from either the AFT or the NEA. Those groups’ respective presidents, Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelen Garcia, also hadn’t yet responded on Twitter to Christie’s remarks.
The New Jersey governor isn’t the only Republican candidate for president to invoke his opposition to unions in a national context. In February, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as part of his expanation for how he would deal with the Islamic militant group known as ISIS, said, “If I can take on a [sic] 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world.” That’s a reference to union and other protestors who opposed his ultimately successful push to strip teachers’ and other unions of most of their collective bargaining rights.
Photo: Gov. Chris Christie talks about the need for salary caps for school superintendents during a town meeting in Toms River, N.J., in 2010. Mel Evans/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.