Interview with New Jersey Gov Chris Christie

Interview with New Jersey Gov Chris Christie

By Your World w/Neil Cavuto - June 23, 2010

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: The tumult over the general.... How would one Chris Christie handle this? I spoke exclusively with New Jersey's Republican governor just moments ago.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: I understand, as an executive and a commander in chief of the National Guard here in New Jersey, that, you know, if you're the commander in chief, you - you have to be the person in charge.

Now, there are also times when you're going to want robust debate and advice that differs from yours if you're a commander in chief from the people on the ground who are giving you that advice. And I insist on that myself, not only on domestic issues, but on issues regarding our National Guard.

CAVUTO: You know, Governor, there are people who say insubordination is insubordination. Challenging your boss is challenging your boss. The closest analogy I could make to you, sir, is when you kept on your education commissioner, Bret Schundler, when he had gone ahead and made some deals with - with union heads that you were not a fan of. And you immediately challenged him on that and said that he operated without your authority.

But you didn't fire him. Is there a distinction?

CHRISTIE: Well, you know, listen, again, I think that goes to the relationship. Bret and I had a number of really direct conversations about those decisions that he made...

CAVUTO: What does direct mean?

CHRISTIE: It means I didn't mince any words.



CHRISTIE: And - and in the end, I concluded that Bret understood that he had made a mistake, and that that mistake wasn't going to happen again. And so that's the decision that I made, when you also balance it against the value that I think Bret Schundler will bring to our administration in terms of his ambition on school reform, which we need to have in New Jersey.

And what an articulate spokesmen he's been for that over the last almost two decades in New Jersey. You have to balance all those things out - the benefits of the person and the mistake that was made.

And, in my judgment, with Bret, once I had his assurance that that was something that wasn't going to happen again that it really was, legitimately, just an error in judgment on his part, I felt confident in keeping him on.

But that's kind of my point with the president and General McChrystal. I also have a relationship with Bret where I - when I sat across from him, I believed he was telling me the truth. I think that's what the president probably is going to try to get at today with General McChrystal and why the history of the relationship is probably really important.

In my judgment, keeping Bret Schundler was the right thing to do.

I'm happy to have him on board. No one is going to live life without making mistakes. I certainly make them. So does everybody else. As long as you believe those are honest, genuine mistakes, I think people, you know, should get a second chance.

CAVUTO: You have just put the finishing touches - and there's broad agreement on the principles - of a pretty substantial New Jersey budget, the smallest in five years, at around $29.4 billion.

And you did it all without a single tax increase, and this in the face of developments in Washington where just today, Governor, they're talking about that so-called $250,000 threshold for hiking taxes isn't gospel. Dianne Feinstein of California had said maybe $200,000, could go lower. It's not sacrosanct. That's the president's pledge, not Democratic leaders' pledge.

What do you make of that?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I can only talk about what we've done in New Jersey.

And I just think that we're at a point in our economic life here in our state - and - and, candidly, across the country, where increased taxes is just the wrong way to go. The people of our state are not convinced that state government, county government, local government has done all they can with the money we already give them, rather than the money that we have before.

And so...


CHRISTIE: You know, we got together...


CAVUTO: Sorry, Governor. I should explain to those wondering where the crowd - we're here with a large forum, town hall meeting that the governor is going to be holding shortly, so there are a good few hundred people in this room. And so, when they react, you're going to hear it.

But I'm sorry.

CHRISTIE: Listen, I - so that's why I made the - made the commitment back in March. I said we are going to balance an $11 billion budget deficit in a $29 billion budget, so by percentage, the largest budget deficit in America, by percentage, larger than California, larger than New York, larger than Illinois. And we're going to balance that without raising taxes on the people of the state of New Jersey.

They've had their taxes raised 115 times in the last eight years, and yet we still have this deficit that we're dealing with.

So, to me, I just think raising taxes to close these holes is something that is counter to getting private sector economic growth, so we can put people back to work in good-paying private sector jobs.

That's what we have to do in New Jersey. And, you know, I think what we have done, in cooperation with the legislature, in being able to do this, Republicans and Democrats, is to - to show folks in New Jersey that we get it and we have to do better with what they're already giving us. And, in fact, in my view, over the next number of years, we should be taking less from them, not more.

CAVUTO: This invariably leads to folks saying you side with the rich. When you vetoed a millionaire's tax, which actually wouldn't have affected those earning as little as $400,000, it was immediately met with hue and cry that you were on the side of fat cats.

The New Jersey Education Association president said: "The choice could not be more stark: tax cuts for millionaires or full school funding for New Jersey kids."

CHRISTIE: Well, let's be clear, the millionaires tax, as they called it, was allowed to expire by Governor Jon Corzine and the Democrats in the legislature in December of last year, before I was even governor. And what I said was, they wanted to pass that tax. That was their choice to extend this tax. They chose not to because they wanted to play politics.

And they thought, wait, we can get a two-fer here, you know? We can raise the taxes and get more money to spend to expand our programs, and we can force the governor to do something we know he doesn't want to do and said he won't do, which is raise taxes on anyone in New Jersey.

And I said to them, you made your choice. You didn't want to take the revenue when you had a governor who would sign it. You're not going to get it now, because raising taxes on businesses in New Jersey, which that would have done, and individuals in New Jersey, is not what's going to make our private sector grow.

We already have the worst tax burden of any citizens in America, when you combine all of our taxes. So raising taxes on anybody - because, believe me, today, they're going to raise taxes on those people. Next year, they will come back and raise taxes on somebody else. And then it's going to get into your pocket.

Someone has to stay on the line and say, no, we can do this by cutting spending and reducing the size of government. That's what I was committed to doing. So, all these other things are just politics and false choices.

And I think they thought that a governor, like Jon Corzine, who, when they pushed, I would fall over. They misevaluated this governor.


CAVUTO: When the governor of a very important state comes to one of its smallest towns to send a message, those who love him make it very clear they love him. Those who don't make it very clear why they don't.

What you're about to hear next from the governor of New Jersey is a reason why unions are no big fans of one Chris Christie.

CHRISTIE: You know, what would be fair would be for the teachers union to stand up and take the first step. And they even haven't done that. So, I'm not making any promises.




CHRISTIE: Let me finish my answer. Let me finish my answer. Let me finish my answer. OK?

I am not going to make any commitments to the teachers union to do anything until they do something that's other than in their own self- interest. And everything they have done so far is in their self-interests, and that's it.





CAVUTO: Gibbstown, New Jersey, population 4,000, give or take a few.

This is the latest forum for Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey to sort of meet people and get in touch with the people. These audiences are not screened. They can be his supporters. Invariably, there are more than a few critics. He takes on one and all. And, invariably, what happens in rooms like these become of the stuff of YouTube sensations.

The governor at forums that are as obscure on paper as any you have ever heard of has become a political rock star because of what happens in rooms like this.

CAVUTO: What do you make of teachers? Because they really seem to dislike you.

CHRISTIE: I love teachers. No, listen, that's wrong. Teachers don't dislike me. The teachers union dislikes me. And there's a real difference between teachers and the teachers union.

CAVUTO: So, you think there's a disconnect between the teachers and the union?

CHRISTIE: I think there's absolutely a disconnect and I know it both anecdotally...

CAVUTO: But they're out for blood, right, Governor.


CAVUTO: I mean, they're out to say you're starving kids in the classroom, that you're taking away every program known to man.

CHRISTIE: Sure. Sure. Of course they are.

They're wrong. And they're dramatizing it, and they're playing to the grandstand. And they're playing to their own constituency. I get all that.

CAVUTO: But do you think that criticism - and they have waged it in the press and elsewhere - is what's hurting your poll numbers?

CHRISTIE: No. I think the fact that I have to make really hard choices, that I've cut every department in state government, and every one of those cuts affects some people directly.

We're having a 9 percent reduction in spending year to year from last year to this year. That's unprecedented in New Jersey.

And, so, when you make those hard choices, you know that they're going to anger some people or disappoint some people or hurt some people. I don't like doing that. But this is the job I got hired to do. And if I capitulate, if I continue to kick the problem down the road to my children or my grandchildren, then I will have failed in this job.

And so that's why I said right from the beginning, I don't care about reelection, because if you care about reelection too much, then you look at every one of those polls you're talking about, Neil, and you go, ooh, maybe I should back off a little bit, tack a little this way, tack a little that way.

No. This is who I am. This is what I got elected to do. And at the end of it, this state will be in a better place. It doesn't mean that I will necessarily be reelected, because I will anger special interest groups that are powerful in this state.

But I am not going to back off of what I promised to do. That's my covenant with the people of the state. And - and if it means my poll numbers drop, that's the way it goes. And if it means in four years that they say I want someone else to be governor, that's the way it goes.

I got four kids between 6 and 16. And you know what that means. I'm working for the rest of my life anyway.


CHRISTIE: So, if it's this job or something else, it doesn't matter.


CAVUTO: Well, join the club on that.


CAVUTO: Governor, you - you have taken on unions of all sorts since coming in. And many union leaders have targeted you in attack ads that have gone viral nationally themselves.

And one of the things that typical union members will say - or the ones they talk to for these ads is: I paid into these benefits. These are benefits I was promised years ago, and now along comes Chris Christie to say, well, I'm not going to get them. He's broken a covenant. He's broken a promise.

Never mind it was never your covenant or your promise. You've inherited a lot of this. What do you think of that argument that public workers feel you have a bulls-eye on them?

CHRISTIE: Well, first of all, the argument is simply not true, because what I'm doing is trying to change the pension system in New Jersey so the pensions is actually there for them.

Our pension system is $46 billion in debt - $46 billion in debt. If we don't change, that pension won't be there for the people who are complaining about it right now. And I...


CAVUTO: But are you addressing the pensions for those who come on the rule now or are you feeling that everyone who is on the payroll now, everyone who has a benefit now, everyone has to give a pound of flesh?

CHRISTIE: Well, what I have - what we've done so far is change the words for new hires.

And we did that in the first 60 days. And that was something people said could never be done, is to change these pension and benefit rules...


CAVUTO: But the real money is in the established...


CHRISTIE: Well, that's right. And that's why we have to go to the next step.

And I've said this. And the legislature has said we have to move to the next step. We've been pretty busy. We did pension and benefit reform in the first 60 days. Now we're going to balance an $11 billion budget deficit without a tax increase. Then we're moving to what we're going to talk about today, which is constitutionality capping people's property taxes at no greater increase than 2.5 percent per year, and the only way they can do it is if the voters themselves vote to increase their taxes.

And then, after we're done with that, we'll move on to dealing with additional pension and benefit reform.

But, in the end, remember something. The public sector has been shielded from this recession in New Jersey. People all across New Jersey have lost their jobs. If they have kept their jobs, they're paying more for their benefits. They're making less money. They've at least had their - their salaries frozen, if not cut, and had hours reduced. And yet their property taxes continue to go up. Why?

Because we have continued to give public sector workers 4 percent and 5 percent increases, despite the fact that there's zero inflation. We have continued to say that the teachers union is right, that teachers, in the main, should have to pay nothing - nothing - for family health coverage, medical, dental and vision.

I mean, there's no one in the world who has this deal. And the property taxpayers, the ones who have lost their jobs, the ones who have had their hours reduced, the ones who are paying more for their own health benefits, if they have them, they're the ones picking up the tab.

Now, listen, shared sacrifice is shared sacrifice. And the public sector unions have been shielded from that, and it's got to stop.



CAVUTO: A very feisty audience watching this interview at this forum, before he formally kicked it off. This man, who has only been in office a few months in the Garden State, growing questions as to whether he should aim higher.

I will ask him about that and the buzz around whether a Governor Chris Christie should ever be a President Chris Christie.


CAVUTO: Hey, General McChrystal, join the club, CEOs all but saying today, welcome to life in the crosshairs, big guy. The president's no fan of ours either.

Back to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who told me today, you know what? Those CEOs have a point.


CAVUTO: The Business Roundtable today had a rather scourging attack on the administration for being anti-business and holding CEOs of all types to - to unfair criticism. I'm cutting to the chase here, Governor. But their underlying message and the headline was, lay off.

What do you think of that?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think everybody has got to be held responsible for their conduct. Corporate CEOs have to be held responsible for their conduct, too. They have an obligation to their shareholders and to the public at large to act in a legal and responsible way that helps to make our society a better place.

And so I think corporate CEOs have to be held responsible when they've done things wrong.

But we also cannot make the business community in America or the business community in New Jersey the scapegoat for every problem by going into their pocket for more money, because, in the end, it's those businesses, both small and large, and the people who start them and run them that create the new jobs that are going to take our unemployment down from near 10 percent, where it is now, to something much more manageable, putting more people to work and then...

CAVUTO: But should they be regulated more? Should they be watched more, scrutinized more?

CHRISTIE: I don't know that it's more, but what I will tell you is that I think they need to be watched.

Now, listen, this is coming from a former U.S. attorney what brought a lot of tough cases against a lot of corporations while I was U.S. attorney, because, you know, sometimes, like any other group of people, people in business misbehave. They break the law. They cut corners. And when they do, they should be held to account for what they do.

Now, I don't know that we need more laws, OK? You know, when you're in Congress, all you want to do is pass more laws. When you're a legislator, just pass more laws. You know, there's been a law against bribery in America of a public official for over 150 years.

But most of my cases when I was U.S. attorney were on bribery of public officials. Is there anybody left who doesn't know it's against the law to take an envelope of cash in return for doing something?


CHRISTIE: I mean...

CAVUTO: Well, apparently Congress.

CHRISTIE: Well, but then you...


CHRISTIE: Here's the - here's the thing, though.

I mean, so, we have to be smart about the laws that we pass. I think we have to be much more vigilant about enforcing the laws that are already there, and doing it aggressively.


CAVUTO: Obviously, that - that registered, but it's now made you a bit of a - a cult sensation on the Internet. There are videos of you, as you know, Governor, that have become viral.


CAVUTO: And you've become a YouTube sensation. Folks have...

CHRISTIE: My - my teenagers are thrilled.


CAVUTO: Exactly. Exactly.

And one of the things that come up I, here's a guy who's doing everything Republicans say they stand for, but he's actually doing it. And, invariably, that leads to talk of a Governor Christie maybe being a President Christie.

What do you say?


CAVUTO: Don't let the applause...

CHRISTIE: Yes, yes.

CAVUTO: ... prevent an answer.

CHRISTIE: Yes. No, listen, not going - not going to happen.

CAVUTO: What do you mean not going to happen?

CHRISTIE: You know, I want to be governor of New Jersey. I ran for governor of New Jersey.

CAVUTO: Well, so did Woodrow Wilson.

CHRISTIE: I want to be governor of New Jersey.

I understand that, but I'm not Woodrow Wilson.


CHRISTIE: And I think nobody could confuse me with Woodrow Wilson.

I - I think - listen...


CHRISTIE: You have to be really, in your gut and in your heart, ready to be president of the United States, if you decide to run for that.

And - and I simply do not have the desire to do it, nor do I think I'm ready. You know, four years ago, there were a lot of people who wanted me to run for governor in 2005, when I was U.S. attorney. And I made the decision, even though many in my party were urging me to do it, not to run, because I loved the job I was in, and I didn't think I was ready to be governor.

CAVUTO: But you already now, Governor, have more experience than Barack Obama when he announced he was running.




CHRISTIE: That - that doesn't mean - that doesn't mean that I'm ready. That doesn't mean that I'm ready.

CAVUTO: How about...

CHRISTIE: In my judgment - I mean, Neil, this is really important, because...


CHRISTIE: ... in my judgment, if you're going to try to do something like that, you have to absolutely believe in your heart and in your mind that you want to do it and that you're ready to do it.

And I want to be governor of New Jersey. I want to do this job for as long as the people allow me to do it. This is a state where I was born and raised, and I love being here. I love living here with my family. I love coming home to my own house every night. I love being with my kids and being, like I was this weekend, at the little league fields and at my son's baseball field watching them play.

And, if I run for president, none of that - none of that is available to me. You give over your entire life.

I'm ready to be governor of the state of New Jersey. I feel comfortable doing it. I feel challenged by it. And I am ready to do the best job I can for the people of this state. And as for...


CAVUTO: But have you looked at the field right now?


CAVUTO: It's not a very impressive bunch.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen...

CAVUTO: I'm just...


CHRISTIE: ... I'm not going to get into evaluating the field.

CAVUTO: No, no, no, no. I'm asking you to - I'm sorry. I - I just - another thing that came up is, hey, he would make a heck of a running mate.


CHRISTIE: Is there anybody around who thinks I could be a number two to anybody?



CHRISTIE: I mean, it would be kind of hard. I kind of have my own views. It's kind of tough for me to be number two to anybody. So I - you know...

CAVUTO: Well, Teddy Roosevelt was a pretty good number two.

CHRISTIE: Yes, well, I don't know. Teddy didn't have to do it for too long. The president got shot, and he wound up being president.

CAVUTO: Well, that's a very good point.

CHRISTIE: So, you know, he didn't have to be number two for too long.

Listen, I think you've got to know what you do well. I decided a year-and-a-half ago that I wanted to be governor of New Jersey, and that I was willing to fight for it. And I - we had quite a fight here, as you know, for me to win this election. There were - most people in the state where, if you asked them beforehand, didn't think I was going to win this thing.

We have won it, and now we're doing exactly what I promised we would do. That's exciting and invigorating for me. I want to serve the people of the state where I was born and raised. And now is the time for me to focus on being governor.

And so, that's why I have said very clearly to people that, while I'm flattered by all this - I really am - you know, and who wouldn't be? But, on the one hand, I know who I am.


CAVUTO: We shall see, as they say.


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