April 6, 2011— -- 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'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.
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.
"We had the same kind of situation a year ago, and I just got in the room with the Democrats in the legislature, and we came to a principled agreement," Christie said. "I have a particular message for the president: He should get in and lead and bring them together."
Christie said that no matter the differences, a government shutdown is unacceptable.
"Shutdown is a failure of everybody, including the president. Because in the end, we're here to stand up for principles, to say the things that we believe in, but we're also here to lead and run a government," Christie said. "It would be a failure of everyone involved, of the Congress and the president, if they don't get this done."
Christie, who has an outsized frame to match his bold personality, has recently begun to slim down. With the help of a trainer, he's exercising several times a week and says he has lost weight, though he won't reveal a number.
"Let's just say this -- I feel better, I have more energy, and my wife's happier because, you know, we've got four kids," Christie said.
"What do you say to psyche yourself into it?" Sawyer asked.
"I just look in the mirror, Diane, and I go, 'Okay, I've got to get healthier,'" Christie said. "This job has really forced me, because it's such a draining job from an energy perspective... If I want to be good, I've got to do this."
Christie, born and raised in the Garden State, is also a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen, but the musician and Jersey icon hasn't been shy about criticizing his fan.
Springsteen, who declined to play at the governor's inauguration, recently wrote to a New Jersey newspaper saying that Christie's policies favor the wealthy.
Christie's "cuts are eating away at the lower edges of the middle class, not just those already classified as in poverty, and are likely to continue to get worse over the next few years," Springsteen wrote.
"Are you surprised to hear that from Bruce? I mean, you know, Bruce is liberal," the governor said. "Doesn't mean I like him any less."
Christie's direct, even confrontational nature has certainly grated on some, even as its drawn him millions of fans who click on YouTube videos of the governor berating teachers that he says have disrespected him at town halls.
For his part, Christie says he's determined to defend his positions, stridently if need be.
"If you treat me with respect even when you disagree with me, I'll treat you with respect back. You treat me with disrespect, that's what you're going to get back," Christie said.
"I kind of wake up every morning excited to get going and to get to work," he continued. "Cause the things that we're working on are so important. And I have a chance to actually do something, not just talk about it, but actually do it."