He says she’s a “greedy thug” who uses children as “drug mules.” She says he’s a “bully” and a “liar” who’s “obsessed with a vendetta.”
Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, and Barbara Keshishian, president of the state’s teachers union, say they want to improve public schools. That’s where agreement ends. In speeches, mailings and multi-million dollar TV ads, they’ve battled over teacher salaries, property taxes and federal education grants. They have met once, an encounter that ended when Mr. Christie threw Ms. Keshishian out of his office.
For Mr. Christie, 48 years old, the fight is part policy, part personality. He quickly has positioned himself as a politician in tune with an angry and impatient electorate, and he’s already mentioned as a 2012 presidential candidate. He’s well aware that the fate of his fight with the teachers union could determine his own. “If I wanted to be sure I’d be re-elected, I’d cozy up with the teachers union,” he says in his ornate state office, decorated with Mets memorabilia and a signed guitar from Bruce Springsteen. “But I want far-reaching, not incremental, change.”
The governor already has persuaded many voters on a fundamental point: New Jersey pays way too much for education. Mr. Christie’s poll numbers dipped earlier after the teachers union began running TV commercials critical of him. But his numbers have rebounded in recent polls. Frederick Hess, education-policy director at the American Enterprise Institute, a think thank that pushes for market-oriented solutions, says a likely new crop of Republican governors who have promised to slash budgets and reform schools will be watching to see how Mr. Christie fares. “New Jersey is the canary in the coal mine,” he says.