As with most states, New Jersey has a considerable budget shortfall. The new governor, Chris Christie, has decided to make cuts throughout the budget while proposing not to renew the increase in the tax rate for the wealthiest 2% of his state's residents. As the Philadelphia Inquirer fairly generously describes it
Christie has proposed cutting $820 million in state aid to public schools as part of an effort to close an $11 billion budget hole in a total budget of about $29 billion. Some districts would lose all of their state aid as a result of the cuts, if the governor's budget is approved by the Legislature.
The governor has aimed his rhetoric squarely at the teachers union, calling for school districts to reopen contracts with teachers to negotiate wage freezes and other concessions to save money.
The Governor could choose, amid applause from the Democratic-controlled legislature, to renew the increase in the income tax rate of the wealthiest 2% of New Jerseyans. Or he could suspend state payments to charter schools instead of increasing them. But he has chosen not to do so, while the bargaining position of the New Jersey Education Association was somewhat weakened when news came of a memorandum from one of its county units to its locals in which was included:
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.
A bad joke in bad taste. The union official, Joseph Coppola apologized while Christie blasted the remark. NJEA President Barbara Keshishian requested a meeting with the Governor to apologize personally.
Always ready to seek common ground with his adversaries, the Governor used the hours before the meeting to call publicly for voters in New Jersey municipalities to reject the school budgets they will be voting on later this spring. When Keshishian and the Governor met, the latter called on Keshishian to fire Coppola, a move the state union official noted she did not have the authority to make.
This was probably a little difficult for the Governor of New Jersey, in whom the state constitution grants more power than any chief executive of any state, to understand. This also appeared to mystify the governor's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, who
said that if a student had made similar comments about a principal, he or she would undoubtedly be suspended and investigated by police.
"Do we think it was a threat? No, but it was a wish," Drewniak said.
The mind reels. Could it be that the Governor's office does not understand the difference between the two situations? Let's compare: in one case, a threat is made by a student- a juvenile- against a teacher, who acts in loco parentis. In such a case, the comments understandably would not be interpreted as a joke, but rather as a threat of violence against a private citizen.
A union official including this "prayer" at the tail end of a memo is not threatening- as the governor's spokesman admitted- a private individual, but is expressing his hope as pertains to a public official. It is tasteless and reprehensible but the writer clearly is protected by the First Amendment. (And he is also expressing a sentiment others have about the Governor, the President, and many public officials.)
Misunderstanding seems to abound in the Governor's office, in which
Drewniak called the refusal to ax Coppola “a ridiculous double standard. If anyone on the governor’s staff had done what he did they would have been shown the door in an instant,” he said. “If you can’t do that than how can we have a civil dialogue.”
The spokesman claims to believe that "if anyone on the governor's staff had done what he did they would have been" fired immediately. This is curious: first, it's unlikely that anyone on the governor's staff would have publicly wished the governor dead.
Presumably, Drewniak was not referring to that individual wishing the Governor dead. But who would have been the subject of the remark? the local official? the state official? He apparently did not bother to say. This is not insignificant. It would not only be tasteless and inappropriate for someone on the governor's staff to make that remark about a union official, it also would be, well, strange. What actual power does that union official have- expecially as compared to that of the Governor of the State of New Jersey? Why would the staff member even be concerned about the union official?
But there is a more fundamental misunderstanding here. The union official is elected by the membership, serves the membership, and is paid by the membership. A member of the governor's staff is paid by the taxpayers of New Jersey- and, depending on the position, serves not the Governor but ultimately the people of New Jersey. For the governor to suggest that the labor official be fired- not even repudiated or voted out, but fired- is beyond overreaching.
Any other governor attempting to impose his/her will by making precipitous, radical changes to his state (as the N.J. governor is doing) would be said to be "throwing his weight around." Alas, that would bring more whining from the