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Christie's conservative record under close scrutiny

Looking at issues of concern to conservatives, Chris Christie seems, if not in perfect harmony with conservative voters, at least closely aligned on several issues.

Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, Christine Todd Whitman — all four of these politicians from the Northeast have been considered potential candidates for the Republican presidential ticket. Giuliani even took the plunge four years ago and made a bid for the White House.

On paper, each of them looked attractive — especially when factoring in the region's 99 electoral votes, which the GOP routinely writes off.

But former New York City mayor Giuliani, former Pennsylvania governor Ridge, and former New Jersey governor Whitman were too liberal or moderate for most Republican primary voters when it came to social issues — particularly abortion.

So too with Christie? Perhaps not.

Looking at issues of concern to conservatives, Christie seems, if not in perfect harmony with conservative voters, at least closely aligned with them on several points.

If Christie did run for the GOP nomination, in some ways his best advocate would be the Democrat he defeated in 2009: former Gov. Jon Corzine. His campaign ads portrayed Christie as a Neanderthal right-winger far out of step with most New Jersey voters.

Here are six defining issues and where Christie has stood.

As most GOP primary voters do, Christie opposes abortion and wants to restrict it.

But he hasn't made the issue a priority since becoming governor. Then again, he must contend with a Democratic, pro-choice legislature. By favoring some restrictions on abortion he stands in sharp contrast with Whitman, for example, who as governor, vetoed a ban on the procedure known as partial birth abortion.

When Christie ran for governor in 2009, he said a law requiring parental notification before minors could get an abortion is "something we can agree on, Republicans and Democrats, and certainly it's something I'm going to try to get done."

He also supported a 24-hour waiting period which he said “makes sense when someone's making as difficult a decision as terminating a pregnancy. And I would certainly be an advocate for that as well."

Marie Tasy, the executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, a group which backed Christie’s candidacy in 2009, praised him for addressing the anti-abortion rally last January at the state capitol in Trenton marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

“Gov. Christie is our first pro-life governor ... he’s been a friend to the pro-life community,” said Tasy. Of his change of heart on abortion, she said, “I’ve spoken to Gov. Christie about his conversion and I believe it’s authentic."

Christie told that Roe v. Wade anniversary rally, "As you all may know, this is not an issue that I always understood nor was I always on your side. It is an issue I came to grow and learn about in a very personal way.”

He said when his wife was pregnant and he heard his daughter’s heartbeat “at three months in our doctor's office, it was at that moment that it became clear to me that being on the sidelines on this issue was not something I could live with. I needed to speak out in favor of a very simple idea, that that child is a life which deserves protection.”

Waiting on Christie

Sept. 30, 201102:35

Michele Jaker, executive director of the New Jersey Planned Parenthood Action Fund, criticized Christie for having eliminated a state budget line for reproductive health care, including birth control and Pap tests. “He was one of the first (governors) to use the budget as a way of pushing forward his social agenda ... He’s been completely out of touch on women’s health,” Jaker said.

When he first prepared to run for public office in 1993 Christie described himself as “pro-choice,” but his shift toward an anti-abortion position began in the mid-1990s.

By 1996, as a member of the Morris County Board of Freeholders, he was sponsoring a resolution that called on New Jersey's congressional delegation to help override President Bill Clinton's veto of a bill that would have banned partial birth abortion, except when a mother's life was in danger.

"I'm pro-choice, but I think this procedure is reprehensible," Christie said at the time.

Illegal immigration
On Tuesday night, during his appearance at the Reagan Presidential Library in California, Christie implicitly criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry for signing a bill that granted in-state tuition rates at the University of Texas to illegal immigrant students.

"I do not believe that, for the people who came here illegally, that we should be subsidizing, with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition, their education," he said. "Let me be very clear, from my perspective, that is not a heartless position. That is a common-sense position."

Three years ago Christie sounded a bit more lenient on illegal immigrants. The Newark Star-Ledger newspaper reported in 2008 that Christie, then the federal prosecutor in New Jersey, told a forum in Dover, N.J., that "Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime."

He added, "The whole phrase of 'illegal immigrant' connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime."

He added that the United States had a "serious immigration problem" and said "If there are people out there committing crimes, they should be dealt with. If there are undocumented people running around, then Immigration and Customs Enforcement should do their jobs."

Gun owner’s rights
While many Republican activists staunchly defend a Second Amendment-based unlimited right of law-abiding people to own and carry guns, Christie takes a middle ground, favoring some state restrictions on gun rights.

In 2009 Christie opposed a law signed by Corzine which limited the number of handguns that can be legally purchased in New Jersey to one per month.

Christie told the Star-Ledger, "Gang members don’t go to Dick's Sporting Goods and fill out a background-check form to buy their guns. They buy them out of the trunks of cars that have trafficked them from other states that have much more lenient gun laws than we do. We should be focusing on that rather than focusing on things that make political headlines."

But he supported the New Jersey law that bars most people from carrying concealed handguns.

As a gubernatorial candidate, Christie opposed a 2009 effort by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to make any state's concealed-weapon permit valid in any other state.

"I believe that each state should have the right to make firearms laws as they see fit,” Christie said. “And I don't believe it's right for the federal government to get into the middle of this and decide firearms laws for the people of the state of New Jersey.”

Last December the NRA praised Christie for commuting the prison sentence of a New Jersey man, Brian Aitken, who had been convicted of illegal possession of firearms for not having a carry permit when transporting his unloaded guns in the trunk of his car.

The NRA said Aitken “had made every effort to comply with New Jersey's restrictive and confusing laws.”

Greenhouse gas emissions
Conservatives see attempts to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as a preposterous Al Gore-inspired overreach by Big Government. Christie's not quite on the same page with them — but he has shifted his ground.

He announced in May that he was withdrawing New Jersey from a ten-state compact called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

He contended that the emissions permits under RGGI “were never expensive enough to change behavior” and get people to use alternative energy sources such as solar power.

He also said, “RGGI does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernable or measurable impact upon our environment.”

He did say, “We're going to work to make New Jersey number one in offshore wind production” and pointed to a law he signed which offered an array of tax credits and other incentives to businesses that manufacture facilities that support offshore wind projects.

“On balance he’s failing to deliver on the promises he made in 2009,” said David Pringle, the campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, a group that backed his candidacy in 2009. But Pringle added, “It’s not a black-and-white issue. He’s very strong on offshore winds.”

In his 2009 campaign, Pringle said, Christie did not take a position on RGGI, but did endorse the 2007 state law and the energy master plan that were the basis for RGGI. “He even praised his opponent, Gov. Corzine, for establishing them even as he criticized him for not implementing them aggressively enough while pledging that he would — we agreed and this was a key commitment.”

For Christie to withdraw the state from RGGI is “a clear and key broken, related campaign promise,” Pringle said.

Same-sex marriage
The marriage issue has receded a bit for conservatives but the controversy may be rekindled if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear a case in the next few years on whether the Constitution includes a fundamental right for same-sex couples to wed. Justice Antonin Scalia has warned the court is heading in that direction.

When he ran in 2009, Christie supported civil unions and opposed legalizing same-sex marriages.

“I am not a supporter of same-sex marriage,” he said, “My problem with it is, I think this is something people should be voting on. If we're going to have that type of drastic change or we're considering that type of drastic change in one of the bedrocks of our society, I think that's something that the people should vote on, not the legislature."

The power of the judiciary
Conservatives see the U.S. Supreme Court as a body which has thrown aside judicial restraint, invented new rights, and subverted the American people's right to govern themselves, on issues from abortion to private property rights.

On the state level Christie is fighting a similar battle.

When he ran in 2009 Christie was sharply critical of the power exercised by the New Jersey state Supreme Court. "My problem is that the Supreme Court in this state has seen itself as a superior branch of government, not a coequal branch of government,” he told the Newark Star Ledger. “They are not a superior branch of government."

Christie refused to re-appoint Justice John Wallace, a Democrat, to the court. Wallace was the only African-American justice on the court.

“There was an enormous outcry from the African-American community about that,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

But, she said, “It’s not about race and not about competence; it’s about ideology” — Christie’s belief that the state Supreme Court had infringed on the authority of the governor and the legislature.

“This is essentially his version of a court-packing plan” — to appoint people to the high court who will exercise judicial restraint. So far, he has succeeded in getting one nominee, Anne Patterson, confirmed to the court. Harrison said it is too early to assess her record.  

What's intriguing to some Republicans about Christie is his battles with public employees and his direct style. But topics such as illegal immigration still count heavily with many GOP primary voters and, if Christie makes a run for the Republican nomination, he's bound to be pressed for more answers on these litmus test issues.