The Campaign Spot

Chris Christie’s Campaign Tangles With the New Jersey Teachers’ Union

There’s an art to addressing criticism in the political arena. I understand that the Chris Christie campaign has to respond to lines of attack from the New Jersey Education Association and other allies of Jon Corzine. The NJEA, the state branch of the National Education Association, have taken their lead from the candidate they endorsed, incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, and ditched any pretense of defending the record of the past four years, instead focusing entirely on trashing the Republican.

The NJEA accuses Christie of wanting to jeopardize teachers’ pensions and health care, and says that he doesn’t respect unions. The Christie campaign responds that there is no plan to change teacher pension plans and no plan to alter health benefits for public-school teachers, and that the charge of “disrespect” is baseless.

Today the campaign held a conference call featuring Christie’s campaign chair, State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, and several pro-Christie teachers, pushing back against the union.

Gail Giacobbe, a retired teacher and 30-year member of the NJEA, was put forth by the campaign to describe how several relatives, all young public-school teachers, had called her, asking about the union’s claims about Christie’s plans. Kyrillos said that the union was hitting the Republican candidate for “some of the tough stances he’s taken and the decisions he will have to make as a competitive state.”

But it was another teacher put forth by the campaign, Richard Sless, who hinted at a response that seemed stronger when he mentioned that he’s making his choice for governor not just as a NJEA member but as a father and a tax-paying property owner. Do even members of the New Jersey Education Association feel that they are better off now than they were four years ago?

The problem with “my opponent is lying about my positions” messages is that they sound defensive, even when they are true. Clear, detailed plans — with no leeway for the standard “shortchanging our future” nonsense from desperate incumbents — are the best defense.

(Kyrillos said that one of the reasons Christie did not attend the NJEA’s candidate-evaluation meeting was that the NJEA endorsement took place five days after the primary, but the letter Christie sent at the time didn’t focus on the timing, stating simply, “I am not seeking the formal endorsement of your organization because it will require promises that the Governor and I both know will not be kept by either candidate who makes them.”)

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