Gov. Chris Christie came in for some criticism at Tuesday’s gubernatorial debates – and not just when Democrats were jawing.

Christie’s fellow Republicans also sought to create some distance from the term-limited Christie, whose approval ratings are only break-even among voters in his party and far worse among independents and Democrats. Along the way, each mocked their rival’s efforts to seek that separation.

“Kim Guadagno and the Christie administration had seven-plus years to fix New Jersey,” Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, R-Somerset, said of the lieutenant governor. “They just haven’t been able to get it done.”

Guadagno sought to differentiate herself from Christie on both style and substance.

“We’ve all seen a lot of yelling and screaming, and we know that hasn’t solved a lot of the world’s problems,” Guadagno said. “I find, and it’s been my experience in the last seven and a half years, that you get more done if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Ciattarelli said “there is a bit of a hypocritical element” in Guadagno speaking out publicly against the gas tax only after it had been passed. He also said she didn’t speak out about North Jersey casinos.

Guadagno said a lieutenant governor in New Jersey is elected on a ticket as a running mate and voices objections privately, which she says she has done on multiple occasions.

“I’ve never seen Jack Ciattarelli in Chris Christie’s office. I’ve never seen him raise a complaint to the governor of the state of New Jersey directly,” Guadagno said.

“No Republican in this state has been more critical of the governor than Jack Ciattarelli,” Ciattarelli said.

Guadagno also broke from Christie in the debate by pledging to return New Jersey to a climate change cap-and-trade plan Christie ditched in 2011.

“We need to admit that there is climate change. We need to go back into RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that the governor took us out of,” said Guadagno, who in describing her support for clean energy noted she’s had solar panels on her Monmouth Beach home for five years.

Ciattarelli disagreed with returning the state to RGGI.

“We should only be addressing energy policy on a nationwide basis, not on a state or regional basis,” Ciattarelli said. “The fact that Pennsylvania is not in RGGI puts us at a competitive disadvantage. This is not the way to go with regard to energy policy.”

In the Democratic debate that followed in the Stockton University debate doubleheader, three of the four candidates specifically talked about returning the state to RGGI. The fourth, Sen. Raymond Lesniak, has criticized Christie’s RGGI withdrawal in the past.

Phil Murphy, a former United States ambassador to Germany, leads in Democratic primary polls and, unsurprisingly, was the main target of attacks in the debate – in general for his background at Goldman Sachs, and more specifically for his unique proposal to create a state bank.

“A bank that we would all own as citizens, that would do all of its business in New Jersey,” Murphy said. “Student loans at better rates. Small business loans. Working with community banks. Small-scale infrastructure loans in communities. All of which would contribute not only to a fairer economic New Jersey but one that grows and one that creates jobs like we used to create.”

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, said the state has shown it can’t manage pensions, transportation or education and that he doesn’t buy it would do better with a bank.

“A state bank for New Jersey would be a disaster. If Mr. Murphy wants to create a state bank, maybe he should go back to Wall Street,” said Wisniewski, who said the only state with its own bank, North Dakota, underwrites it with oil and gas revenue that New Jersey doesn’t have.

Former U.S. Treasury Department official Jim Johnson said the state shouldn’t get to run a bank.

“We cannot adopt Wall Street gimmicks to fix Main Street problems,” Johnson said. “The state bank that’s been proposed would be put in the hands of the same people that have been driving this state into a ditch year after year after year.”

While the start and end of the Democratic debate featured some fiery efforts to undercut Murphy, there was only mild to no disagreement through most of the question-and-answer portion.

One unique idea was offered by Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, in an exchange about property taxes.

“We can save money by having a controller of education that would look at school spending and not allow truant officers for 4-year-olds, like we have, or custodians of education who are supervisors and are only supervising themselves,” Lesniak said. “We have to be progressive Democrats who also look after the tax dollars of our people. We have to make New Jersey affordable.”

Two Democrats who will be on the June 6 ballot – Bill Brennan and Mark Zinna – and three Republicans – Steve Rogers, Joseph Rullo and Hirsh Singh – did not qualify for the state-sanctioned debates because they didn’t raise $430,000 needed under state law.

The four Democrats who did qualify will debate again Thursday in Newark, at the studios of NJTV.

Ciattarelli and Guadagno will debate again a week from Thursday.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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