Gubernatorial challenger State Senator Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) is slowly gaining ground support, picking up her latest endorsement since officially announcing her run against Gov. Chris Christie last month.
The New Jersey Education Association political action committee, representing 195,000-members in every county, voted unanimously to endorse Buono on Friday. The union cited Buono’s longtime support for public education and says it’s time the state had “new leadership.”
Christie and the NJEA have long been feuding over numerous issues affecting teacher tenure and salaries. The union’s political action committee believes Buono is more in touch with the issues affecting the state’s public school system.
“Barbara Buono has supported public education for her entire career in the Legislature,” said NJEA President Barbara Keshishian in a statement. “She is a proud graduate of New Jersey’s public schools, and understands the vital role they play in the aspirations of middle class citizens.”
“Unfortunately, over the past three years, teachers and school employees have seen their budgets slashed, their colleagues laid off, their class sizes increased, and their programs cut. It’s time for new leadership,” said Keshishian. “Barbara Buono will be a governor who will believe in public education and the men and women who work in our public schools. Barbara Buono will make the right choice between tax cuts for millionaires and textbooks for schoolchildren.”
Both Buono and Christie were interviewed by a 15-member screening committee, which recommended Buono’s endorsement to the entire 135-member Operating Committee.
“We genuinely appreciate Governor Christie’s willingness to participate in a candid and thoughtful conversation with our screening committee,” said Keshishian.
When she appeared before several hundred NJEA members from across the state at the Delegate Assembly meeting in Trenton, it was clear who the union would back as Buono was greeted by thunderous applause.
“Barbara Buono rejects the misplaced priorities of the past – priorities like tax cuts for millionaires while blocking an increase in the minimum wage; shortchanging public schools while allowing property taxes to increase by 20 percent; and demanding taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools while under-funding public schools by billions of dollars,” she said.
Earlier this month, Buono picked up support from the CWA, New Jersey's largest state worker union, representing 35,000 state employees.
"With one in ten residents out of a job, now more than ever, New Jersey needs leaders who will look out for working families and the middle-class. Our Locals overwhelmingly voted to support Barbara Buono for governor because she understands and is on the side of middle-class families," said Hetty Rosenstein, CWA's state director. "Barbara Buono grew up in a working family and knows what it's like for families to struggle to make ends meet. She'll fight for all of New Jersey's families, not just the 1 percent."
Buono, who has been a steadfast supporter of collective bargaining, has voted for a host of issues Christie has vetoed, according to VoteSmart.org, the non-partisan, nonprofit educational organization that is funded through individual contributions and philanthropic foundations.
In 2011, Buono supported the right of adopted individuals to gain access to birth certificates in the state. The legislation was conditionally vetoed by the governor.
Christie has also vetoed legalizing same sex marriage, which Buono supports. She has also voted in favor of extending family leave benefits, a bill she sponsored which creates an employee funded insurance program to provide compensated time off to care for seriously ill family members and new family members.
Last October, NJ Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), co-sponsor of the family leave benefits bill, issued the governor a poor report card detailing Christie’s voting patterns that affect women’s issues like health, pay equity, and access to after-school programs and found the governor could use some help.
Democrats called the report card a wake up call for all New Jerseyans and placed the governor ‘on notice’ for not paying attention to programs that matter to the women in the state in which he governs.
Christie vetoed original legislation to enact state-based health exchange and when it came to child care, needed a little prodding to reinstate after school funding. He also approved one pay equity bill, but conditionally vetoed others that followed.
In 2011, Christie vetoed legislation calling for loans for women and minority-owned businesses. Buono supported it.
Christie has stated he believes it is condescending to women to single them out and feels it is better for Republicans to push a broader message rather than focus on specific appeals to individual voter groups.
Despite trailing behind Christie in the polls, Buono continues to stand her ground reminding voters that the state is still suffering from high unemployment, unusually high property taxes and a high foreclosure rate as compared to the rest of the country. Although the election is eight months away, political strategists say it wouldn't be prudent to rule Buono out just yet, considering the fiery issues that are still smoldering throughout the state.