Christie stirs outrage of an old enemy, teachers unions

AP News
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Posted: Aug 03, 2015 2:06 PM

HADDONFIELD, N.J. (AP) — More than any single Democrat, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's greatest rival has been the biggest teachers union in his home state.

Running for the Republican presidential nomination, Christie is now taking on teachers unions nationally. When was asked Sunday in an interview on CNN who deserved to be punched in the face, he didn't hesitate: "Oh, the national teachers union."

Here's a look at Christie's history of entanglements with teachers unions.

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WHAT CHRISTIE SAID

On the CNN program "State of the Union," host Jake Tapper pointed out that Christie has previously said there are two ways to deal with bullies — sidling up to them or punching them in the face. He asked Christie, "At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?"

Christie answered the teachers union, explaining, "They're not for educating our children. They're for greater membership, greater benefits, greater pay for their members, and they are the single most destructive force in public education in America. I've been saying that since 2009. I've got the scars to show it."

He noted that one national union representing teachers has already endorsed Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton for president. The American Federation of Teachers endorsed Clinton last month, but the larger National Education Association has not yet made an endorsement.

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THE ROOTS OF THE DISUPTE

When Christie took office in New Jersey in 2010, he quickly antagonized the state's teachers unions, which strongly supported his Democratic opponent.

His first budget, adopted amid a fiscal crisis, included cuts to state aid for schools, which led to layoffs in many of the state's school districts. He frequently bashed the New Jersey Education Association and its leadership during the budget process and campaigned for voters to reject local school budget proposals in districts where educators hadn't agreed to concessions.

The NJEA fired back, spending $17.5 million on lobbying in 2010 and 2011 — a record for lobbying spending in New Jersey each year — almost all of it on ads going after Christie. The union spent another $3 million in 2013 as a rare voice against Christie as he coasted to re-election.

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IT GETS PERSONAL

In 2010, Christie called for the head of the Bergen County Education Association to be fired after he included this line in a memo to members:

"Dear Lord this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor."

The Bergen County local's president, Joseph Coppola Jr., apologized, but refused to step down. He still holds the position.

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THE COOPERATION

Christie and teachers unions have occasionally found some common ground. Christie and NJEA were both parties to a compromise that resulted in a major overhaul of the state's teacher tenure protections in 2012.

The same year, Christie approved of an innovative contract for teachers in Newark, the state's largest school district, that paid teachers in part for their performance — something he had pushed for and teachers unions generally oppose.

Earlier this year, Christie announced the NJEA was the one major public employees' union that was working with him on a plan to overhaul the state pension system. The union later backed out of the discussions.

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THE FALLOUT

It's too soon to tell if Christie's comment will help him in the crowded Republican primary field for president, but teachers unions are not happy with him — as usual.

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said in a statement that Christie should resign as governor, chiding him: "He is a terrible role model to the children that our members work so hard to protect, nurture and educate."

AFT President Randi Weingarten lambasted Christie in a statement issued Monday, saying his comment "promotes a culture of violence and underscores why he lacks the temperament and emotional skills to be president, or serve in any leadership capacity."

A spokeswoman for Christie declined to comment on the criticism.

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Follow Geoff Mulvihill on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/geoffmulvihill