New Jersey governor calls Branstad GOP legend in visit to Iowa


Photo: Tyler Kingkade/Iowa State Daily

New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie has become a GOP darling since beating out an incumbent Democratic governor in 2009. Christie described his battles with the teacher unions and how he was against the school budgets at a rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad in Des Moines on Monday, Oct. 4.

Tyler Kingkade

WEST DES MOINES — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, spoke at a fundraiser for Iowa gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad, and said the GOP needs to “set the tone” in 2010 to steer the country in a more conservative direction.

“We lost our way a number of years ago,” Christie said. “We became tax- and spend-light.”

Republicans must return to Ronald Reagan-era principles or they will be put in the shadows of where they belong, Christie said to the 700 people at the Hy-Vee Conference Center in West Des Moines.

He described his first months in office of battling with state Democrats in New Jersey over budget troubles and how he called their bluff, refusing to raise taxes and how he would lower taxes again during his term. He also mentioned the state’s public sector job cuts to much applause by the audience.

The Republican governor is known for his battles against the teachers’ union in the garden state.

“I have nothing against teachers,” Christie said. “I have a big problem with the teachers’ union.”

In an attempt to compromise with the teachers’ union, he said he offered them a proposition to freeze pay and contribute 1 percent of salaries to cover lifetime health benefits to avoid layoffs.

When his plan was rejected, Christie encouraged voters to vote against the school budgets as New Jersey votes each year on public school budgets in April.

Christie described the “garbage” he has to listen to in New Jersey during battles with the teachers’ unions who he claimed are “stealing” from taxpayers, while they say it’s for the kids.

“You wonder why I’m in Iowa, get the heck away from that, that’s why I’m in Iowa,” Christie said.

The sold-out dinner was the largest candidate fundraiser for the Branstad campaign during this cycle. Sarah Palin’s speech at the Ronald Reagan dinner attracted 1,500 as a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party.

More than a dozen former staffers of Branstad’s administration attended, and lieutenant governor nominee Kim Reynolds said Branstad’s administration would have an “assembled team of Iowa’s best and brightest.”

Christie has become a GOP darling since taking office in January after beating out an incumbent Democratic governor and cut the New Jersey state budget by billions, amid an election year where Republicans nationwide are declaring government spending too high.

During his first eight weeks in office, he passed a budget which reduced school aid by $820 million, cut $3 billion from state pensions and laid off 1,000 state workers.

New Jersey faced one of the largest budget deficits in the country when Christie took office of the traditionally blue state.

While a debate takes place in Washington, D.C. over whether or not to extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, Christie has said he will not raise taxes on those who make more than $400,000 annually.

The Branstad campaign requested a visit from Christie through the Republican Governors Association. Earlier Monday, Christie campaigned for Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker.

He has received more than 100 requests for endorsements. The New Jersey Republican also made stops in California, Ohio and New Mexico to campaign for GOP candidates.

His trip to Iowa increases speculation he may seek a presidential nomination in 2012, despite his repeated statements he’s not interested.

“No chance, no way, no how,” Christie said later to reporters.

He said he came for free because he selected 13 states where he believed in the candidates and wanted to do what he could to help their campaigns and said Branstad was “legendary” in the Republican party.

Branstad said he hasn’t been as impressed with a speech since Reagan and said Christie enumerated the same principles.

Both governors said gubernatorial races are where it’s at, though, in the sense that the federal government is always behind what’s done at the state level.

“I preach to the choir so they will sing,” Christie said to the crowd, describing why he’s campaigning in Iowa to energize the Republican supporters who attended the dinner.

Jim Gibbons, who ran for the Republican nomination for Iowa’s third Congressional district earlier in 2010, said 2012 will be the “ultimate showdown” and isn’t too far off, so the Republican party in Iowa needs to be greatly energized.

“I think we need to look far beyond 2010,” Gibbons said. “We need to change the way we’re looking at things.”

Branstad dismissed the notion that he was looking to shape Iowa for the 2012 caucuses after the event.

“I am not looking past this election,” Branstad said.

He said he wants to be a part of a group of Republican governors who can have a real effect on changing the direction of the country.

But Christie emphasized politicians finding common ground, so long as it didn’t compromise their core principles.

Branstad is leading in the polls; however, Reynolds said, “We cannot stop and we cannot become complacent.”

Similarly, Branstad said the only poll that matters to him is the one on Nov. 2.