Gubernatorial Candidates React to Christie’s State of the State Address

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Gov. Chris Christie’s focus on addiction yesterday was roundly applauded throughout the state.

We wondered what the gubernatorial candidates hoping to succeed Christie in 2018 thought of it.

We caught up with Democrat Phil Murphy this morning at a bricklayers union hall in Bordentown.

“A lot of the points he raised — for instance limiting prescriptions — I had been talking about seven days, he said five days. I would endorse that and I salute him for having spoken to it. My concern alongside that was, however, that there’s an element of Rome is burning, that we have a lot on our plate as a state. We’re a state in crisis, particularly in the economy and so I would have loved to have seen more detail, seen more of a plan,” Murphy said.

Christie went on a morning talk show today and reinforced the main challenge he laid before the Legislature.

“What I said yesterday is insurance companies now are saying no regular drug abuse treatment and it’s wrong. So what I’ve said is I’m asking for a law to be passed in the next 30 days that says if you have health insurance in New Jersey, six months of coverage for in-patient drug abuse treatment without denial,” he said.

Republican Jack Ciatterelli called the speech a very, very nice surprise that addressed a very real crisis.

“Just three weeks ago I had constituents in my office whose son died because of heroin overdose. I embrace the notion of helping the governor in addressing this crisis. There are other things we need to do, but I think the governor calculated in that sense. There isn’t much a lame duck governor with his poll ratings is going to do with a Democratic majority. I think he picked an issue on which he can work with them,” he said.

Republican Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno is not in the race yet. An announcement is expected soon.

Democrat John Wisniewski, a frequent critic of Christie, hailed the speech with one major reservation.

“I don’t think there was anybody in that Statehouse that would disagree it’s a crisis, that it’s something that needs to be addressed. But curiously what was not addressed in that speech is what’s going to happen with our health care system that many people who are seeking treatment in the opioid crisis rely on. The Affordable Care Act is gutted, or is reduced in some sense, and many people who depend on that for their treatment will now be out on the street. Unaddressed by the governor is what the guy he wanted to be president is going to do with the health care for so many people who depend on that system,” Wisniewski said.

Democrat Ray Lesniak is every bit as much of a Christie critic as there is in the state, but even he was moved. Lesniak jumped back into the governor’s race last week.

“I think it was Gov. Christie’s finest moment. I’ve been fighting the scourge of drug addiction for 10 years now,” Lesniak said. “He really attacked this problem and he identified it with seriousness. It was Gov. Christie’s finest moment.”

Instead of mandatory minimums for drug defendants, the governor proposed a mandatory minimum of six months for insurance companies to provide in-patient drug treatment. With certain caveats, that seems to be going over well with the people running to succeed Christie.