Governor Christie is probably the best-traveled governor in the nation.
His recent stops have included Iowa, Montana, Ohio, Florida, and New Mexico. There is a reason he was invited by Governor Romney to give his party’s convention keynote speech in Tampa and to headline a big rally in Ohio: Governor Christie is the master communicator.
He knows how to frame an argument, using plain and memorable language to make the case. His personality arguably is more magnetic than any New Jersey politician, present or past.
On top of that, his communications operation is superb at connecting with social media, smothering criticism, and ensuring the governor’s dominance of an issue.
In short, the governor sets the agenda for public discourse in New Jersey.
That’s why we need him back in New Jersey to stump for the Higher Education Bond Issue. It’s a proposal the governor supports – after all, he signed the bill that put the measure on the ballot – and argues for it emphatically and effectively on occasion. But for the sake of the future of our state and our students he must do so more often as the November 6 vote approaches.
When he’s in front of higher education folk or in building trades union halls, Governor Christie uses his persuasive eloquence to make a powerful case for borrowing $750 million by issuing bonds and then investing the money in higher education facilities to create things like modernized laboratories and technology-friendly classrooms.
It’s been almost a quarter century since New Jersey made this kind of investment in higher education. The 1988 measure produced $350 million ($680 million in today’s dollars) for technology, research centers, and upgrading laboratories so New Jersey could compete for high value-added jobs. That was a long time ago. Unfortunately, since then public colleges and universities have been on their own – and they are stretched thin.
Governor Christie understands that investment in higher education is long overdue. He understands the importance of once again making New Jersey competitive for the kinds of research and innovation jobs that helped make it the nation’s second wealthiest state. He acknowledges that we’ve been losing those jobs to other states that have invested in research and higher education – states, by the way, that have taxes as high as New Jersey’s.
It’s especially important for him to lead this charge because he alone commands the attention and has the rhetorical clout to explain that supporting higher education in New Jersey is crucial – in fact, more important than ever – in the face of members of his party in Congress that have stoked a frenzy over federal debt and deficits and declared war on federal investments in medical and basic research, funding for higher education, student scholarships and loans, not to mention funding for highways, bridges, airports, and port development.
With this noisy drumbeat about debt and the need for “small government,” there is real danger that many New Jersey voters might be wary of adding to the state’s debt for any reason, no matter how sound.
A campaign for the bond issue is underway, with the support of business leaders, college and university folk, the building trades unions and groups like New Jersey Policy Perspective. Former Governor Tom Kean is the chair and he appears in public on behalf of the measure with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders. Opinion polls on the question are encouraging, but this is too important an investment to take passage for granted.
Missing from the campaign is Governor Christie’s compelling presence. There is a good chance that he – and maybe only he – can connect persuasively with voters otherwise inclined to automatically vote “no” to any new debt or spending. He just needs to make the kind of powerful, persuasive case for the bond issue that he already uses with its supporters, to his town meetings and press conferences that are more widely covered than anything in New Jersey (except Snooki or indicted politicians). We need Governor Christie to travel across New Jersey and preach to the congregation, not the choir.
Governor Christie is the essential salesman for the bond issue. Taking credit for putting on the ballot doesn’t count if it doesn’t pass. The bond issue is the governor’s to lose, and New Jersey can’t afford for that to happen.
Gordon MacInnes is president of NJPP and also a member of the Rutgers Board of Governors. The views expressed above do not represent those of the Board or administration of Rutgers University.
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