Reverberations from our exclusive stories last week at Mother Jones on the Secret Koch Tapes we'd obtained from the billionaire brothers' ultra-confidential political strategy and fund raising confab in June near Vail, CO, continue. Most of the fallout has come in the wake of Part 2 on the secret keynote speech given by NJ Gov. Chris Christie, as introduced by brother David who revealed that he'd had a secret meeting with Christie several months earlier in New York, before he went on to describe the tough-talking Republican governor (audio/transcript here) as "my kind of guy."
Earlier this week, a reporter from an East Coast daily sent us a generous email noting: "Remarkable stories last week. I have no idea where the hell you got that audio, but it stopped the news cycle cold in Trenton. Changed the conversation. That doesn't happen often."
The conversation in NJ's capitol, it seems, is still changing in light of the stories, with several additional new issues emerging over the last day or two. We'll cover one of them --- an interesting result of Christie's tough-talking, thought-it-would-stay-secret Colorado comment that "We need to take on the teachers' union once and for all" --- here (and the other, a bit later)...
NJ Firestorms To Date
There were several political firestorms which broke in the immediate aftermath over the past week following on the Christie story. As we've reported, one concerned comments he'd made during his secret Colorado speech about the state Assembly Speaker, who has since charged in reply that Christie was "lying" and may be "mentally deranged." The jury is still out on that story, as Christie stands by his account of it, though nobody else, including 33 Republicans he said were in the state assembly's GOP caucus room at the time he made them, backs up the account as Christie offered it. Nonetheless, some progressive Democrats are furious, and have launched a petition drive to "Dump the Christie-crats," calling on the Speaker, and her Democratic counterpart in the NJ state Senate, to be removed.
The other major blowout surrounded the question of whether the secret Koch meetings had influenced the Governor's unilateral withdraw from the landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) an agreement with 9 other Northeastern states to use a free market cap-and-trade plan to help curb pollutants and invest the profits in clean energy initiatives. The Koch brothers had long been campaigning against RGGI prior to Christie's surprise announcement last May.
Initially, Christie dodged the question, and then he ultimately denied they discussed it in either of the two now-known secret meetings he'd had with the Kochs --- though the head of the NJ Sierra Club told us Wednesday he is not inclined to believe the Governor's denials.
And now, yet another result of the secret speech has emerged late this week. This one concerning Christie's remarks --- in the speech he thought nobody but the corporate titans in the big dinner pavilion at the Ritz-Carlton Beaver Creek resort would ever hear --- about his intention to take on the teacher's union.
Softening the Tough-Talk on Teachers
"We need to take on the teachers' union once and for all," Christie said to the corporate titans at the Koch event. "We need to decide: who is determining our children's future? Who is running this place? Them or us? I say it's us, and we've got to go fight to do it now."
That comment, which did not go unnoticed last week, has helped lead Christie to "lower his voice and his verbal attacks" on the unions, at least for the moment, as reported this week by Tom Hester Sr. at New Jersey Newsroom, following a presser held by the Governor on education reform in the Garden State...
Over two months later, Christie has lowered his voice and his verbal attacks on the union appear to have stopped — the tough-talking Jersey Guy routine was hurting him in the polls, especially with women.
Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, was asked what’s become of the tough talk.
“We’re not focused on doing battle with adults, except to the extent they stand in the way,” Drewniak said.
Steve Wollmer, NJEA's communications director, said the tough talk has faded because Christie helped create the Better Education for Kids political action committee that in late June launched a $1 million TV ad and direct mail campaign to promote governor’s proposal for teacher evaluation based on student test scores and tenure, “put students first,“ and take on what it considers the biggest opponent to change — the 195,501-member and politically-powerful teachers’ union.
The group’s founders are David Tepper, head of Appaloosa Management, a multi-billion hedge fund, and Alan Fournier, head of another hedge fund, Pennant Capital Management.
Everyone has noticed the intensity has dropped,” Wollmer said. “For one, polling data is driving the governor to behave better. He is seen as failing on education and that’s not good. There is a huge gender gap with women — mothers with kids in public schools — and 70 percent of teachers are women. And two, what Better Education for Kids is doing is essentially providing cover for the governor through direct mail attacking tenure. The governor can sit back and watch the movie and let them do the work.”
Wollmer said the NJEA is taking Better Education for Kids and Christie’s relationship with David and Charles Koch, the multi-billionaire conservatives who hosted the Vail event seriously.
“He wanted to put us in our place,” Wollmer said of Christie‘s remarks at Vail. The union official then added, “The Koch brothers are as far right as you can get. They have made no secret of wanting to eliminate unions. They went into Wisconsin and worked with the governor there and took away union rights.
“If Chris Christie is a friend of the Kochs, we take it very seriously,” Wollmer said.
“We have sent a clear signal to the commissioner’s office that we are willing to work together,” Wollmer said. “But if the goal (of the governor) is to smash the union and take away people’s rights against unfair dismissal, if that is what he is going to come out, that’s a clear indication the gloves are off again.“
See Hester's full story if you're interested in the specifics of where the fight is moving between Christie and the NJ teachers' union. That's likely deeper into the weeds than of interest to the bulk of the national readership at The BRAD BLOG for the moment. But we thought we'd flag the story as yet another indicator of how the articles from last week continue to reverberate out there.
We'll have another piece, along similar lines, on yet another shoe dropping following the Christie/Koch revelations. This one, on new legislation now being introduced in the NJ legislature to try and help mitigate the affects of yet another secret, out-of-state political foray by the state's Governor, whoever it may happen to be, at any given time in the future.