Christie’s Keynote Address: Familiar rhetoric, familiar targets

Two weeks ago, Gov. Chris Christie signed a new tenure reform law and praised a host of parties that came together to craft it, including the state’s dominant teachers’ union — his archenemy for much of his term.

That feeling of fellowship didn’t last very long.

Before a national audience on Tuesday, Christie again spoke about tenure reform in his keynote address to the Republican National Convention, even mentioning that it was a “bipartisan” accomplishment.

Then came Christie’s familiar refrain about the teachers’ unions, not as part of the solution but as part of the problem. He didn’t name names, instead framing it more as a Democrat vs. Republican issue. Yet the target was unmistakable.

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Referring to the Democrats, “they believe the educational establishment will always put themselves ahead of children,” Christie said from the podium. “That self-interest trumps common sense.

“They believe in pitting unions against teachers, educators against parents, and lobbyists against children.

“They believe in teacher’s unions,” he declared. “We believe in teachers.”

The last line received what may have been Christie’s biggest applause of the night from the convention floor, not surprising for a Republican party that has seen its governors take on public employee unions in a range of states.

But at least on the topic of the tenure law, the teachers’ unions in New Jersey by most accounts were key players, with several key components of the bill coming straight from the their initial proposals, especially about streamlining the process for removing ineffective teachers.

Other provisions were more from the Christie camp, including the prominence of student achievement as one of the determinants of a teacher evaluation. And whether this bill would have passed without Christie’s push, let alone unanimously, is doubtful.

Unsurprisingly, Christie’s comments Tuesday night didn’t go over well back home with the biggest of those unions, the New Jersey Education Association.

The union’s leadership didn’t go out of its way yesterday to react publicly, as it sometimes has in the past, but NJEA executive director Vincent Giordano last night said he was sorry to be back in the crosshairs.

“We’re a little disappointed on an issue that we had worked so hard and cooperatively on — and he even praised us at the signing — that before a national audience he got all adversarial again and felt he had to beat us over the head,” Giordano said.

“Seems like he went back to the old approach,” he said. “It was disappointing, but hopefully we can still work together on the issues that are important to us.”

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