Our View: Christie's pep talk for California
TAMPA, Fla. — While California residents are justly proud of many elements of life in the Golden State, when it comes to public policy, California would do well to follow the lead of New Jersey.
The Garden State's tell-it-like-is governor, Chris Christie, has taken on public employee unions, overcome a significant state budget gap and advocated for lower taxes and fees. He recounted his successes to a breakfast gathering Monday hosted by the California Republican Party's delegation to the Republican National Convention.
Christie's approach is perhaps the polar opposite of that taken by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown has remained closely aligned with the state's powerful public employee unions, which did much to get him elected. He also is pushing to raise taxes via his Proposition 30 on the November ballot.
The states themselves share many political similarities. Both are longtime strongholds of the Democratic Party, which controls the legislatures, in concert with government-employee unions, and enjoys an advantage in voter registration.
Christie said California and New Jersey face "similar challenges." He pointed to debt and deficits, people trying to get back to work and trouble with home mortgages. He chastised Brown's policies, while rejecting the notion that California is ungovernable.
"When I became governor of New Jersey, they said the same things to me. I heard people in California saying ... we don't know if it can be fixed; the problems are too big, the challenges are now too grave. Maybe we have just given California away to the public sector unions, to the masters of huge spending and huge government. But it doesn't have to be that way," Christie said.
"California and New Jersey made two very different choices," and "California made a bad choice" in electing Brown. "I have to sit at the National Governors Association with this guy and have him come up to me and say, 'Gov. Christie, stop telling people that I want to raise taxes. I am not trying to raise taxes.' And I said, 'Yes you are, Jerry.' And he says, 'No, I am going to put it on the ballot, and let the people decide.' Hey, that's leadership, isn't it?
"If you made a different choice ... California would be moving in a different direction today," he said. "I hear California is blue, but it's no bluer than New Jersey is. What matters is leadership," saying New Jersey "hadn't elected a Republican in 12 years statewide" until his victory in 2009.
Both governors share a certain brashness that endears them to their respective constituencies. They diverge, however, when it comes to leadership, with Christie energetically shifting New Jersey onto a more sustainable course as Brown continues the failed policies that have fiscally hamstrung California.
In the audience was Elizabeth Emken, the Republican nominee to replace Dianne Feinstein as US senators. "I've heard so many people say, 'Let's focus out-of state, we can't win in California,'" she told a member of the Orange County Register's editorial board. She said Christie's "message was focus on California, focus on where you live. It's a high hill but we are going to climb it."
It seems clear that California can't continue doing what it's been doing. Brown's colleague in New Jersey has shown what can be achieved, even in a blue state.