Following Gov. Chris Christie’s final State of the State address, Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron spoke with Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean of Westfield and Democratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli of Paulsboro.
Aron: Tom Kean, what did you think of that speech by the governor?
Kean Jr.: I think it was a strong speech that talked a great deal about shared accomplishments, a great vision for what we have done together and where we should be going together as a state. I thought it was an impressive speech as he always gives.
Aron: How about you, John. What did you think?
Burzichelli: I think he’s a gifted orator. I thought it was a very personal speech. I thought anyone listening to that would maybe set aside notions they had about him. He condensed eight years into an hour and 20 minutes. I take no issue with anything he said.
Aron: You take no issue with anything he said? Even when he challenged the Legislature to get back on the pension reform issue?
Burzichelli: I don’t take issue in that. I think he’s being honest in offering the direction in which we should follow. I voted for all that stuff as it unfolded over the years and I suspect we have to take that up, so I didn’t take that as something as issue.
Aron: Tom, he said we’re better off as a state than we were when he took office eight years ago. How would you say we’re better off?
Kean Jr.: Well, we certainly are. I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment of that. A couple of different things. He talked about the Higher Education Bond Act which we came together and make sure that we have every shovel on the ground for our higher education institutions building for our future and is a legacy of Gov. Christie. Sandy, he pulled us together at a time when we really needed a person who had strong leadership skills and qualities. And he also identified the opioid crisis earlier than most and has spent a lot of energy and our shared attention to find common ground in that regard.
Aron: What struck you among the 10 or 11 accomplishments that he reeled off? What’s the biggest one in your estimation?
Burzichelli: They all have their place in the overall scheme of things. The higher education issue was huge. Bringing some sense to the pension system, stabling the pension system was huge. Economic growth is very important, of course we’re so subject to what takes place on the national level, but the work that’s being done in Camden, Newark, the recoveries from Sandy. That was all honest effort, Michael, and they’re all accomplishments.
Aron: There are a few things he left out of the speech that he’ll be remembered for, not that he want to, but that he will be. Bridgegate, he didn’t mention NJ Transit, he mentioned infrastructure and transportation. Anything else that you felt was missing?
Burzichelli: Well, you can only cover so much in an hour and 20 minutes. He covered a great deal, and he’s only going to cover highlights and he’s entitled to take that posture with the speech as he leaves us. History will be the judge over time. I mean look at Gov. Florio’s exit. He wasn’t popular when he left, now history looks back on him and people think his governorship is pretty sound. History will be the judge.
Aron: What did you think his mood was for a man who’s got seven days left in a job he claims to love greatly?
Kean Jr.: Energetic. He came in as a happy warrior and he’s leaving as a happy warrior. He’s an individual who cares passionately about making a difference and it was clear in what he laid out today.
Aron: Will things be different here with him gone? A Democratic governor and a new speaker?
Kean Jr.: I think when we look at the concerns that people have talked about of one party control, whether it’s at the federal level or on the state level, one of the great concerns is that we could have increased partisanship going forward, and I have great concerns that we’ve had a long history of bipartisanship success. The concern I have is to only go down a partisan road that will make the lives of New Jerseyans far more expensive, accountability in government at all levels will be a little bit less, so we need to make sure educational opportunities are available for one and all, and that we do it on a bipartisan basis with a long term approach. That’s always better than a strictly partisan approach.
Aron: The new speaker, Craig Coughlin, was sworn in today. He sounded like Tom Kean. He said New Jersey’s too expensive, but then he reeled off a lot of things he wants to get done that all cost money. What do you see from your new leader?
Burzichelli: Well, I see a person that has a great deal of experience, Michael. I think he’s grounded. I think he’s going to be a very good speaker. As far as having one party with both the governor and the two houses, I think we’re Democrats, so it’s not unusual for us to be fighting amongst each other, so there’s going to be plenty of checks and balances, and opinions and ideas.
Aron: What’s Chris Christie doing next? Do you have any idea, Tom?
Kean Jr.: Spend a little more time with his wife and family.
Aron: What do you want to see him do?
Burzichelli: I think he’s going to do whatever he likes to do. I think he is in broadcasting somewhere in the short term. I think he is, as I said at the beginning of this interview, a gifted orator. He just understands how to talk to people, most of the time. And the other times when he doesn’t, that’s also colorful. It’s not bad for television. I think he has a big future.