Christie courts nation in State of the State address
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — As he eyes a potential presidential run, Chris Christie delivered a State of the State speech Tuesday aimed at defining his record as New Jersey governor for a national audience, calling for an “American renewal” while offering mostly incremental new plans for the state.
Christie’s speech was delivered in New Jersey’s Statehouse, in front of a chamber of lawmakers. But he spoke to those well past the state’s borders when noting lessons he learned while campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidates around the country last year.
“We are a nation beset by anxiety,” he said. “It is understandable. Economic growth is low by post-war recovery standards. America’s leadership in the world is called into question because of a pattern of indecision and inconsistency. During this time of uncertainty, it seems our leaders in Washington would rather stoke division for their own political gain.”
“We need a New Jersey renewal and we need an American renewal,” he said.
Christie’s speech comes as he’s taken steps that suggest he’s inching closer to a run for the White House in 2016. He had said he planned to discuss his future with his family over the holidays and make a decision early this year.
But pressure began mounting following an announcement by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that he would be launching a fundraising operation. Former GOP nominee Mitt Romney has also been telling supporters he is seriously considering running.
Among Christie’s biggest hurdles in a presidential primary could be New Jersey’s economy, which has not recovered as quickly as others in the region and still lags in measures like job creation. The Democratic National Committee released a video Tuesday morning ahead of Christie’s speech highlighting those problems, including recent credit downgrades.
But Christie argued that — despite its economic and fiscal problems, which he largely glossed over — New Jersey is far better off than when he first took office
“Despite so much evidence of an improving New Jersey, it has become fashionable in some quarters to run down our state,” he said. “It’s easy to forget where we were and how far we’ve come.”
Christie took pains to emphasize his bipartisan accomplishments. He spoke at length about improvements in Camden, which is among the poorest and most dangerous cities in the nation. The city has seen dramatic drops in violent crime and new economic investment — improvements he credited to working alongside local Democrats.
He also continued to press a theme he has repeated frequently: helping provide recovery services to people who are addicted to drugs and eliminating the stigma they face.
Still, Christie’s speech skipped a number of local issues that he’s been under pressure to address.
He’s promised for months to announce his proposals to further reduce pension and benefits obligations to state workers after scaling back promised payments into the pension system. But he did not issue specific solutions in his speech. And he did not address the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for bridge and road repairs and is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Christie also did not mention the struggles of Atlantic City, where four of the city’s 12 casinos shut down last year.
The omissions stood out to New Jersey Democratic legislative leaders, who criticized the decision.
“It was the state of the state about nothing,” Senate President Steve Sweeney told reporters in a news conference after the speech.
Christie did call on lawmakers to lower taxes, saying that New Jersey’s high rates were scaring businesses and jobs away.
“It is you, and only you, the state Legislature, who can lower taxes further and make New Jersey more prosperous for our middle class families and their children,” Christie said.
Christie also ad-libbed freely, often straying from his prepared remarks — including when he shot down speculation, especially among potential successors, that he will resign his job as governor if he chooses to run.
“By the way, I’ll be standing here in one year,” he said at one point, drawing big applause from the Republicans in the state Assembly chambers.
Democrats were quiet.