New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Calls His State's Teachers Union 'Political Thugs'

PHOTO: Diane Sawyer and Governor Christie at Lincoln Elementary School in Kearney, NJ, April 6, 2011. Gov. Christie had a question/answer session with a first grade and an 8th grade class before sitting down with Sawyer for an interview.
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New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie took another shot at his state's teachers today by describing their union leaders as "political thugs."

In an interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, Christie offered no apology for his often tough talk that has left some teachers feeling bruised. He also talked about the presidential possibilities of both himself and his "friend" Donald Trump, and criticism by Jersey rock icon Bruce Springsteen.

While sitting in the school library at Lincoln School in Kearney, N.J., Christie told Sawyer that it's essential for his state's education system to change and he blames the teachers union for the harsh cuts his administration is making, that includes layoffs and larger classrooms.

"I believe the teachers in New Jersey in the main are wonderful public servants that care deeply. But their union, their union are a group of political thugs," Christie said.

He said the New Jersey Education Association refused to negotiate on a salary freeze last year. "They should have taken the salary freeze. They didn't and now, you know, we had to lay teachers off."

"They chose to continue to get their salary increases rather than be part of the shared sacrifice," he said.

Dismissing objections to his blunt talk, Christie said, "We're from New Jersey and when you're from New Jersey, what that means is you give as good as you get."

Christie is also suggesting a dramatic change in the state's tenure program, forcing tenured teachers to undergo a yearly review and face removal from tenure if they're found to be ineffective.

Christie: I'm Not Running for President

Christie's tough talk for teachers unions has found a receptive audience beyond his state borders. A political unknown on the national stage just two years ago, Christie, 48, is now mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.

But the governor repeated his claim today that he has no plans to run in 2012.

"No, I'm not running for president," Christie said. "I don't feel ready in my heart to be president. And unless I do, I don't have any right offering myself to the people of this country.

"I don't want to participate in the vanity exercise just because people ask me to do it or because people say, 'You could win.' That's not the point," he said.

Will Donald Trump Get In the Republican Race?

Christie also downplayed the idea that Trump might actually seek the Republican presidential nomination.

"Donald's a really good friend of mine. I don't know that Donald really wants to be President," he said.

"We've spoken about it, and all I can say to you is that, you know, I'll believe it when I see it," Christie said. "I think he likes what he does. I think he likes building things. And I think he likes being on TV, and you know, he does that well."

Referring to Trump's hints about running, Christie added, "I wouldn't call it stunt, but I think he's very outspoken and... he loves to be on the stage and to express his opinions."

Christie's Advice to the President on Budget: Get in and Lead

As the nation's political leaders wrangle over the federal budget in Washington, Christie said his experience cutting billions from the New Jersey state budget in 2010 taught him some lessons about the importance of executive power.

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