Chris Christie stops by to praise GOP’s Johnson

MINNEAPOLIS -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie swung through the Midwest on Monday to lend his political clout as chair of the Republican Governors Association to GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson.

Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, left, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hold a press conference at Global Academy, a charter school, in Columbia Heights on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS/Holly Peterson

MINNEAPOLIS -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie swung through the Midwest on Monday to lend his political clout as chair of the Republican Governors Association to GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson.

Christie, who is widely expected to run for president in 2016, spent the morning in Minneapolis attending a pair of closed-door party events with Johnson, the Republican nominee for Minnesota governor, and a Hennepin County commissioner.

In the early afternoon, the two toured the Global Academy Charter School in Columbia Heights. The school, which draws many East African and Middle Eastern immigrant children from high-poverty neighborhoods, has won accolades for posting high test scores and performing above the statewide average in reading, math and science.

“I’m here because I think Jeff can win this race,” Christie told reporters gathered in the school auditorium after the tour.

The campaign stop was intended to raise Johnson’s profile in advance of the November election. Polls have put him anywhere from seven to 12 points behind Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who is running for a second term in office.


Johnson, who has been heavily critical of teachers’ unions, aims to highlight the fact that Minnesota has among the highest academic achievement gaps between white students and students of color in the nation.

“That’s embarrassing,” Johnson said. “It’s immoral. … While politicians love to talk about it, and they love to wring their hands about it, and they love to spend money on it, it’s not getting any better in Minnesota.”

Johnson said he believes schools needs more flexibility in terms of whom they can hire, fire and promote.

He has pledged to reject federally mandated education programs such as No Child Left Behind, as well as the Common Core math and English standards, and he supports allowing public school funding to follow each child to the school option of their parents’ choice - even private and religious schools.

“I would love to get to that point,” Johnson said, while acknowledging that school vouchers or a comparable program is not politically realistic in the near future. “What it does is, it gives parents more choice.”

Dayton has said school funding relies too heavily on local property taxes and schools need more state support to create a level playing field.

The governor has pointed to the state roll-out of all-day kindergarten and recent new investment in early childhood education as examples of his commitment to kids.

In a statement, the Minnesota DFL called Johnson and Christie “like two peas in a pod” and highlighted the pair’s opposition to automatic increases in their respective states’ minimum wage.


In January 2013, Christie vetoed a proposed $1.25 increase to New Jersey’s minimum wage and offered a smaller, more gradual pay hike.

Voters overruled him in a public referendum eight months later, raising the state’s minimum to $8.25, with automatic increases tied to inflation. Johnson also has gone on record opposing Minnesota’s recent minimum-wage increase, saying workers should instead aspire to higher-paying careers.

Mike McFadden, who is running against U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., also joined Johnson and Christie for the 20-minute classroom tour Monday afternoon but did not stay for questions.

Christie has been making the rounds nationally this campaign season in an effort to boost Republican gubernatorial campaigns. In late September, he toured a factory in Hudson, Wis., with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is locked in what appears to be a close contest with Democratic challenger Mary Burke. First lady Michelle Obama also appeared in Wisconsin on Sept. 29 to stump for Burke.

Asked by a student in an eighth-grade science classroom Monday if he would run for president, Christie replied, “I’m thinking about it. We’ll see. I’ll probably decide in the first part of next year whether I’m going to or not, but I’m definitely thinking about it.”

There are currently 29 GOP governors and 21 Democratic governors in office, but those numbers could change next month, when 36 gubernatorial seats will be decided. A big win for the GOP would further boost Christie’s profile entering November, the unofficial start of the 2016 presidential campaign season.

Christie was scheduled to travel to Kansas later Monday to stump for Gov. Sam Brownback and then spend the day in New England on Tuesday to lend his support to Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Connecticut GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley.

The general election is Nov. 4.


The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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