N.J. Gov. Chris Christie's rant reveals a hard-right agenda
Published: Tuesday, June 08, 2010, 5:30 AM Updated: Wednesday, June 09, 2010, 6:15 AM
Gov. Chris Christie on NJ Supreme Court and school funding
TRENTON — The reason fanatics like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck adore Gov. Chris Christie has never been so clearly on display as it was last week during his Rant in Robbinsville.
It was one of his town hall meetings, stuffed with friends as usual. But this time he went far beyond the familiar call for a reasonable cap on property taxes.
This time he attacked justices of the state Supreme Court as “people in black robes who are elected by no one” and suggested that they should never defy the majority will. So much for Alexander Hamilton’s quaint notions of judicial independence.
The governor also revealed for the first time the real reason he removed Justice John Wallace from the bench: It was the first phase in a larger scheme to take money out of poor urban school districts and spread it around to wealthier suburbs.
“If people wonder why I want to change the Supreme Court, it’s because I don’t have the flexibility to change the school funding formula,” he said. “The Supreme Court theory that if you put more money in, (schools are) going to just by magic get better has proven to be wrong.”
The hope must be that if you repeat this nonsense enough, people will start to believe it. But for the record, New Jersey is closing the racial achievement gap faster than any other state. That’s partly because we’ve built the nation’s best preschool program, no small thing.
Some districts, like Union City, have worked near miracles. Others, like Camden, are still failing horribly.
But let’s place the blame where it belongs — with state and local officials who failed to make the most of the money directed to poor urban areas under the Abbott vs. Burke rulings.
The court can only open the door. Union City showed that it’s possible to walk through it.
The governor also claimed that the court mandated “the overwhelming majority” of state money to go a “small number” or urban districts. It was half the money, and it went to districts attended by nearly 1 in 4 New Jersey students.
Worse, the governor blamed the court for pinching school aid to suburbs like Robinsville, when the real cause is the sweeping cuts to all districts the governor is pushing.
“He’s just wrong,” says David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, who represents students in poor districts. “If he funded the formula, Robbinsville would get $1.7 million more in aid.”
The governor is playing an ugly political game. He wants suburban taxpayers to blame their problems on the cities, with the Supreme Court as the enabler. If he has to smudge a few facts along the way, so be it.
Look up the word “demagogue” in Webster’s dictionary and you find a pretty tight fit with the governor in Robbinsville: “A person who tries to stir up the people by appeals to emotion, prejudice, etc., in order to win them over quickly and so gain power.”
Standing in his way, of course, is the Supreme Court. It found that the state’s reliance on property taxes created enormous disparities that deprived kids in poor cities of a chance for a decent education, violating the state Constitution’s promise.
Here’s how the governor described it: “They’ve taken the power out of the hands of the Legislature to make this judgment and out of the hands of the governor, and the courts are making it. Well, that’s wrong. If judges want to legislate, they should run for the Legislature.”
He added, “They’re put there, and they believe they should stay there without any responsiveness to the people of the state.”
Remember, though, that governors and legislatures in New Jersey created a system that was profoundly unequal. Kids in poor cities were crowded into decrepit buildings with poorly paid teachers in systems funded at slightly more than half the state average.
That’s what majority rule delivered. And that’s why the court jumped in. Is the governor really suggesting that justices should heel to the majority instead?
New Jersey is ready for a fiscal conservative after a decade in which the public sector continued to swell even as private sector jobs disappeared. Polls show solid majorities want to see Trenton go on a diet and support his plan to cap property taxes.
If the Rant in Robbinsville is any guide, though, Christie has grander plans to push a conservative agenda. That will no doubt tickle Limbaugh and friends.
But it will be a tough sell to the moderate voters of New Jersey.
Gov. Chris Christie during a press conference.