Have you ever felt that your legislative leadership wasn't even remotely concerned about the interests of you, your community, your friends and your neighbors? This is the story of how I wouldn't let Governor Christie give me a political dance to questions that concerned thousands of residents in South Jersey. This is a story of how Governor Chris Christie's arrogance and lack of decorum brought our pleas outside of the box!
On March 8, 2012, I attended a town hall meeting hosted by Governor Chris Christie. At the time I was unaware that the verbal exchange I would have with the governor would make national news.
When Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, announced he wanted to merge my Rutgers-Camden campus and law school with Rowan University, I was stunned. Christie had never visited the Camden campus and to my knowledge, no one was consulted about the takeover, not even the dean of the law school. Not one person on campus, students or faculty supports the takeover. I came to Rutgers because of its quality and its name. I can't imagine Gov. Christie's motives in this merger, but as someone with on-the-ground experience, I can't see any way this benefits me or Rutgers. I've never heard of a successful university campus being summarily merged or closed down with no consultation. There is no paper trail for the decision. It is very hard for me to understand.
I'm an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran advocate. I decided to talk with Governor Christie about a proposed takeover of Rutgers-Camden directly because he was bent on destroying a great university that many good people in South Jersey care about. Governor Christie didn't have the courtesy or cared enough to even talk with one person within the Rutgers-Camden community.
As a veteran advocate, I'm concerned because Rutgers University was recently ranked the third most veteran-friendly university in the entire nation (GI Jobs magazine), and if the takeover were to happen many non-traditional students and veteran students living in South Jersey would no longer have the ability to receive a degree with national recognition. See here and here.
Governor Christie is pressing hard to have Rutgers-Camden merge with Rowan. The governor wants this done fast. There is no need for supportive facts or questions! Governor Christie doesn't care that Rutgers-Camden Law School is nationally renowned. The governor isn't concerned that Rowan University doesn't have a law school. The governor does not want to hear that it is unprecedented in the history of the United States of America for a university without a law school of it's own to acquire a university that does. The governor makes no moment to pause his controversial takeover even thought Rutgers-Camden is an AAU (Association of American Universities) elite research university while Rowan University is not.
Governor Christie's commission report concerning the takeover of Rutgers-Camden is two pages long, has little supportive facts and zero fiscal analysis. The governor has publicly stated that New Jersey legislatures have until July 1st to make a decision and has also threatened to use his executive authority.
Time to Take a Stand!
Governor Christie could have cared less that hundreds of Rutgers students traveled to the New Jersey Statehouse and protested -- that over 4,000 people have written him letters to opposing the takeover and that 10,000 people from all over the world, mostly from South Jersey, have signed their names on a petition opposing the takeover of Rutgers-Camden. Christie could have cared less about the petition, the letters or our outcry!
Governor Christie never once decided to come to Rutgers-Camden and listen to the concerns of one student or professor. The governor had also not bothered to return one letter or to talk to one student or professor at our university. I decided it was time for me to talk with Governor Mano-a-mano and I wasn't going to let him play political charades. Christie, a man with no composure!
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie bragged about a state comeback, job growth and tax cuts during a town hall in Roebling. But one attendee, a Mount Laurel man, was removed from the meeting after arguing with Christie over the Rutgers-Camden merger with Rowan University.
"Chris Christie Gets Into a Shouting Match With an Idiot" (FULL EXCHANGE)
Public humiliation and verbal abuse. A dish served by the governor. (After the governor's verbal abuse had ended and while I was sitting in my seat, the governor directed three police officers to escort me out of the forum.)
Video of interview after being removed from Christie town hall meeting:
(Video by Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger)
Perspective of a Classmate
One of my classmates describes the incident as this:
Those of us AT Rutgers Law HAVE seen the videos, and also HAVE seen Mr. Brown in class and outside of it, where he always displays the utmost respect for everyone he speaks to. We respect and support what he did, because the man was speaking FOR US, his classmates, not for the Democratic party and not for his own political career. He said what needed to be said, and didn't let Christie sweep him to the side with empty answers. William got loud because he, because WE needed to be heard, and Christie never wanted to listen in the first place.
-- D'Andre D'Araujo.
Governor Christie's Closing Remarks
On March 12, 2012, Governor Chris Christie held a press conference at Bordentown High School New Jersey and defended his behavior toward me by saying: "He acted like an idiot. He's an idiot. I don't have any regret about it at all... Just because he was a Navy SEAL doesn't give him the right to be a jerk... This was a guy with a political agenda who came in and wanted to try and make me look bad and not let me answer the question. He can cry his crocodile tears all he wants."
My Closing Remarks
After the governor's meltdown, I experienced a few days of intensive media exposure where I did everything I could to advocate for working families, the community of Rutgers-Camden, non-traditional students and veteran students. There is no doubt that Governor Chris Christie publicly humiliated me. But on the positive side, for a few days, the whole nation learned about the pleas of the small Rutgers campus in Camden, New Jersey.
Governor Christie's disregard for democratic process and basic civility really scares me. It's indicative of the bully politics of Fox News, and when you live it at a personal policy level and
when someone in Christie's position treats you like a talk radio victim, it makes you scared for American democracy, but it also makes you want to fight. If there is one lesson I learned, it is that at any time, any one person can have an impact on the world that surrounds them. If you ever feel that your legislative leadership isn't even remotely concerned about the interests of you, your community, your friends and your neighbors, then get up and make your voice heard -- because you never know how influential your stand can be!