Tonight, when the GOP convention goes full throttle, the keynote speaker will be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has a national reputation as a union-arm-twisting, voucher-loving, turnaround-supporting, education-budget-trimming chief executive. That doesn't mean, of course, that he'll utter a word about education at a convention dominated by the economy. But if he does, he'd have plenty to draw on.
Christie, who some folks wish had run for the GOP nomination this year, recently championed vouchers in his state, although he couldn't sell them to a legislature controlled by Democrats. But earlier this year, he reached a deal with state Democratic leaders, making it much tougher for teachers to get, and keep, tenure in exchange for keeping in place layoff rules that put a premium on seniority.
Christie has also cracked down on education spending. Back in 2011, he worked with Democratic leaders on a deal to require teachers and other public employees to put more of their own dollars toward their pensions, which would help tamp down state spending.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has made teachers' union-dissing a big theme of his campaign-trail education rhetoric. Even though Christie has been able to compromise with Democrats in the legislature, he doesn't have a ton of fans in the New Jersey Education Association, an affiliate of the 3 million-member National Education Association.
"He does not respect teachers and the teaching profession," said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the 195,000 New Jersey union. And Baker's not too happy with what he called Christie's "constant denigration of New Jersey's exceptionally strong public schools." (For more on Christie and the unions, watch him go toe-to-toe on labor issues with U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Education committee)
But, although I doubt it will come up in his keynote speech here in Tampa, Christie has said some nice things about President Barack Obama when it comes to education policy. He told Michele McNeil in a wide-ranging 30-minute interview last year that Obama has shown "outstanding leadership" on K-12 policy. And he was clearly upset when New Jersey just narrowly missed snagging a piece of the administration's signature Race to the Top education-redesign competition (so much that he fired then-state chief Bret Schundler.) New Jersey had to settle for the Bridesmaid Round, which offered smaller grants to states that just missed making it to the winner's circle.
Even if he doesn't touch on education, Christie should have big crowd appeal with his keynote. One sign: His appearance in the convention hall Monday—not long before the day's storm-truncated opening ceremonies—drew a celebrity style scrum of reporters, camera crews, and photographers trailing him across the floor.
Delegates tonight will also hear from home-school-loving presidential also-ran and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania; Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who has been tough on public employees' collective bargaining rights; and the presumptive nominee's wife, Ann Romney.