by Henry Graebe
I can’t think of a more apt description of my home state leader, Governor Chris Christie, than “enigma.” It is neither a compliment nor detraction, but simply his political status. For every conservative step he takes forward, he takes two giant RINO steps backward.
Governor Christie had been a breath of fresh air following New Jersey’s long line of failed leadership, from James Florio to Jim McGreevey to Jon Corzine, and his approval ratings are no mistake (an astonishing 74%). Unlike his predecessors, there have been no stories of corruption, no testimonies before Congress, and he has not been embarrassed by failing to avoid a government shutdown. The state is proud to have a governor in the national spotlight finally making headlines for the right reasons.
Well, most of the time.
This past week Governor Christie has been making waves again, this time by reversing his position and agreeing to accept an expansion of Medicaid. The decision completely overshadows some of the better aspects that were included in his recent budget proposal. For example, one of Christie’s strengths throughout his first term has been education. He had already displayed the leadership that was necessary to prevail against the teachers’ unions in a media war and push through much needed tenure reform. On Tuesday, he pushed for more school choice by introducing, in his words, “a pilot program of opportunity scholarship grants for needy students. Any child in a chronically failing school should have the choice to find a better one, whether it be out-of-district or non-public.” These educational scholarships will provide up to $10,000 per student and are a positive step in the direction of choice and competition. The governor also advocated for initiating more charter schools throughout the state. Of course, the greater say that parents have in which school their child attends will help struggling districts. The downside: New Jersey already ranks second in the country for per-student spending and will be picking up the additional costs.
Governor Christie has done a lot of good for my state, like capping the highest property taxes in the country. But many of the accomplishments have been offset by some of his recent decisions. He portrayed himself as a cost-cutting fiscal hawk but then proceeded to strangely advocate for the pork-filled Sandy Relief Bill (the lack of actual Sandy relief has been well-documented). His willingness to accept the expansion of Medicaid is not a head-scratcher. Governor Christie stated “we have an opportunity to ensure that an even greater number of New Jerseyans who are at or near the poverty line will have access to critical health services beginning in January 2014.” In a week that is dominated by talks of the sequester cuts (peanuts compared to the list of entitlements that are bankrupting the nation) this is not time to expand dependency on the federal government.
People are clamoring for someone with real ideas and real reform. What Governor Christie has just done is admit that if he were to become the nation’s 45th President, entitlement reform would be hands-off. In fact, an actual expansion would not be beyond the realm of possibility. A pattern has emerged and it is not flattering: Chris Christie is a “compassionate conservative.”
This is not the fiscal leader the country is hungry for and is exactly why, if he decides to throw his hat in the ring for 2016, he will probably join the likes of Mitt Romney and John McCain as yet another big government Republican who receives a less-than-enthusiastic voter turnout.
His moderate policies are relative to New Jersey’s politics and thus tolerable only within the Garden State. But they are not well received outside it. His noticeable and understandable snub from CPAC is not a coincidence. In fact, it speaks volumes of how far outside the mainstream his conservative brand actually is. By his latest act, he may have placed the final nail in his national stage coffin. Though his decisions are popular and supported in New Jersey, that is precisely where his political future will remain.
Henry Graebe is the Campaigns Manager at FreedomWorks.
Follow him on Twitter @HenryGraebe