Created: 01/14/2014 5:59 AM KSTP.com By: Jennie Olson
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looks out at the crowd at a gathering in Union City, N.J., Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014.
Photo: Photo: AP/Mel Evans
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme that threatens to damage his second term and could cut short any ambitions to run for president.
According to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press, Christie, an early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, will make the case Tuesday that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically. Details of the plan will be left for another day.
Christie, who won re-election by 22 points in a Democrat-leaning state, hopes to regain his footing after being shaken by revelations that key aides orchestrated massive traffic backups by closing lanes near the George Washington Bridge, one of the world's busiest spans. Four Christie loyalists have been fired or resigned for the apparent political vendetta against a Democratic mayor who wouldn't endorse Christie.
The governor apologized, and during a lengthy news conference last week said he was "blindsided" by his staff's involvement.
Two state legislative panels announced plans Monday to continue their investigations into the incident one Democratic leader now is calling an "abuse of power" probe. The U.S. Attorney's office also is reviewing the apparent political vendetta, possibly to target a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse Christie for re-election. The mayor, Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, told the AP Monday he was asked by a Christie operative to endorse the governor but never responded with a definitive answer after saying he would consider the request.
Christie has denied any knowledge in the planning or execution of the plot, and there is no evidence linking him to it. Recently released emails, many from private accounts, show some in Christie's circle were told about the traffic jams days or weeks after they happened.
Christie's proposal to lengthen school could antagonize an old adversary, the powerful public teachers union, which he has clashed with over pension and tenure changes. An overhaul of public employee retirement benefits by Christie and the Legislature in 2011 was bitterly opposed by the union, which spent millions in anti-Christie ads during his gubernatorial campaigns.
The education plan is the latest from a governor who has sought to retool schooling in grades kindergarten through 12 with mixed success so far.
Christie successfully overhauled century-old teacher tenure rules, essentially eliminating lifetime job protections. But the Democrat-led Legislature has not gone along with his voucher plan, which would allow children in failing schools to attend classes elsewhere, including at private or parochial schools.
Christie also is expected to revive the theme of bipartisanship, which has taken a hit in the scandal. While Christie has sought to package himself as someone willing to reach across the aisle to get things done, in contrast to politicians in Washington, the traffic plot exposed the petty partisan politics being practiced by some of his aides.
Christie is set to be inaugurated for a second term on Jan. 21. The celebration will be on Ellis Island, historically a gateway for immigrants arriving in the United States.
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