Industry the October 2022 issue

Can We Compromise?

Q&A with Governor Chris Christie
By Sandy Laycox Posted on September 29, 2022

During that time, he emphasized the issues of budget reform, pension and health benefits reform, education reform, and the opioid crisis gripping his state and the nation. He also devised New Jersey’s groundbreaking storm recovery response to Superstorm Sandy, leading the rebuilding of the state’s housing, infrastructure and public schools.

In 2017, President Trump appointed him as chairman of the president’s commission on combatting drug addiction and the opioid crisis. The Christie-led commission ultimately issued a final report containing more than 65 substantive recommendations, all of which were adopted by President Trump.

In 2019, Christie authored The New York Times bestseller Let Me Finish, about his life and career in New Jersey and as a candidate for president. In 2021, he published Republican Rescue: Saving the Party from Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden. He is now a senior legal and political commentator for ABC News and a registered lobbyist, and he serves on the board of directors of the New York Mets.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q
In your most recent book, you went through a lot of effort to debunk the lies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. As I read it, I was wondering who you were trying to reach, because there are many people who already believe the lies aren’t true and the people who do believe the election was stolen aren’t going to listen to what you’re saying anyway.
A
I’m trying to reach, first of all, the people who are undecided about what they think really happened and, secondly, the people in the Republican Party who softly believe [the election was stolen] just because they don’t like Biden and they don’t like the Democrats. What I’m trying to do is within the softer parts of my own party—and by softer I mean the ones who have not absolutely decided that this is what happened no matter what you say to me—I’m trying to get those people to think about not only why it’s wrong but also what it means for our future, as potential leaders of the country, if we continue to advocate for that kind of point of view. So that’s the target audience.
Q
Social media is mentioned as one of the reasons why these theories flourish. You also mention regulation of big tech. What do you think we should do with social media and the way that these theories flourish and really show themselves to be quite dangerous?
A

I think we need to use our legal system. There’s no reason why these big tech companies should be immune from lawsuits for things that are said on their sites. They got that immunity early on because they said, “Look, we’re just a bulletin board.” But we now know they’re not. We now know they’re using all different kinds of algorithms to determine what gets on [their sites] and what doesn’t. Once you decide to get into that business, then you need to be subject to the scrutiny of our legal system. So if there are things on there that are actionable, either civilly or criminally in the judicial system, they should be subjected to that. I don’t think they should have a special class of treatment anymore—not because they’re bigger than they used to be but because they’re doing stuff they said they wouldn’t do.

Facebook is not a bulletin board anymore. Twitter is not just a bulletin board. YouTube is not just a bulletin board. They make decisions about what goes up and how frequently it’s seen. Once you start to make those decisions, then you need to be subject to liability based on our laws just the way a newspaper or a magazine or someone who’s out there speaking is. I don’t think we need new regulation. I think we have a system in place already. We just have to subject them to that system. And I think that will have a real moderating effect on how they conduct themselves.

Q
Do you think that by doing that it will have a spillover effect into the way the public views some of this information?
A
Yes, because I think if you start having some lawsuits on this and things are demonstrably proven in court to have been false, people will start to question it. But right now, you don’t have any of that. There’s nobody who can challenge it except to challenge it politically, and people aren’t going to buy that, because depending upon where you sit politically, you’re going to be more inclined to believe your side than the other side.
I think having strong feelings about what policy should be cannot and should not preclude you from compromising.
Gov. Chris Christie
Q
You talk about the overreach of business in response to some social issues. But at the same time, especially during the early stages of the pandemic, a lot of businesses were the only ones guiding people in terms of what to do—telling their employees to work from home and how to get access to vaccines, for example. So in the absence of big government, where does the role of employers fall, especially as they feel like now they have more and more of a responsibility to take care of their workforce?
A

I think that’s a pretty good place to draw the line. Deciding about giving advice and counsel to your employees about public health issues or workplace issues in terms of having human resources talk to people about whether they feel as if they’re being discriminated against or those type of things in the workplace, I think that’s all perfectly appropriate.

What I’m not in favor of is corporations deciding they’re going to tell the entire country what’s acceptable and what isn’t. The most recent example, of course, is Disney. I think Disney has done enormous harm to its brand by getting involved in [Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” sex education bill]. You want to go and lobby against that law in Florida and you’re Disney? Fine. But this kind of woke-ism stuff to me is a really dangerous area for them to tread, because norms change. But the internet’s in ink, so you’re writing this stuff, saying these things, they’re permanent, people are not going to forget it. And when norms change, then you’re going to feel something totally different.

I just think that businesses in the mainstream should stick to two tasks: doing their job best in class, whatever industry you’re in, and taking care of the employees who help you to do that. If you stick to those two things, you generally are going to be OK. You start Ig involved in politics in a public way, you’re going to wind up having bigger problems.

Q
What do these big companies do when, even if they are thinking the same way you are but are faced with all these corporate social responsibility reporting requirements?
A

Now you get back into big government. Now the government is going to require you to report on all those. It is a slippery slope that we’re never going to be able to stop. What next are we going to have to report on and force companies to do? This is a political movement trying to impose its point of view, not through the ballot box, which is where you’re supposed to do it, because they couldn’t do it that way. Now they’re trying to impose it regulatorily, when they have control of that, to be able to say to a business, “You must do these things or we’re not going to license you, we’re not going to allow you to be on the stock market.”

Using the SEC to require ESG? What the hell’s the SEC got to do with that? They’re supposed to be regulating the trading of securities and the issuance of securities. What’s ESG have to do with that? I think these are big governmental overreaches, which, as the American people absorb it, they’re going to repel, because we’re still, in the end, a freedom-cherishing people. We saw that during COVID. Around the country, lots of people put up with freedoms being restricted for a certain period of time. But as it went on, they started to say, “Wait a second. I can’t go to church if I want to? Why can’t I take the risk if I think that the benefit I will get spiritually from being in church outweighs the risk I’m taking with COVID?”

I think there’s a lot of people who will repel against this type of overreach with corporate responsibility reporting and ESG and all the rest of it. I think it’s a backdoor way of trying to impose an agenda. I have no problem with someone trying to impose an agenda—just do it through the front door. Win elections.

I just think that businesses in the mainstream should stick to two tasks: doing their job best in class, whatever industry you’re in, and taking care of the employees who help you to do that.
Gov. Chris Christie
Q
In your book, one of your best and most interesting examples of success in governing was how you worked in a bipartisan fashion as governor of New Jersey to overhaul the Camden police force. I’ve read about that; it’s a case study. It’s great work. What are your thoughts on working across the aisle?
A

You have to work with everybody who is elected; it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. I think both things can coexist. I’m very clear on the things that I believe in that I think [they] are the best solutions. For instance, when I was governor, I had eight years of a Democratic legislature. So you’ve got to decide if you’re going to sit in the corner and hold your breath or if you’re going to work with people to take half a loaf. I think having strong feelings about what policy should be cannot and should not preclude you from compromising. The next book I’m working on is about Ronald Reagan and 10 examples of times when he reached consensus and compromise without disposing of his principles—to remind people that you can do that.

You can stand up for certain things that you believe in but also acknowledge that the people elected a government, with people of all different kinds of points of view and everybody who gets elected is entitled to be heard. If they can put together enough votes, [they] are entitled to be negotiated with in order to come to consensus. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. There’s very few things that Joe Biden has done that I agree with as president, but he’s the president. So he gets to sit there and be part of the conversation about how we resolve these problems, whether I like it or not in terms of what he proposes. He’s earned the position of being there. I felt the same way about President Trump. He got elected by the American people. I think the two can coexist.

Q
Climate change is a significant issue for the insurance industry. I know that you have firsthand experience with Superstorm Sandy and what nat cat can do. What are your thoughts on climate change? How can we make sure that we remain resilient and people remain able to endure this?
A

I think we’ve got to move toward using more renewables. We have to continue to do that. My problem with what we’re doing is, we’re doing it in a way on the current administration which also excludes fossil fuels. We can’t do that yet; we’re not ready for that. If everybody in the Biden administration who wanted to have an electric car had an electric car, the grid would collapse. We don’t have enough power to charge electric cars in every town overnight. And we especially are not going to have it if they continue to say you can’t use natural gas to fuel electric-generating plants and to also say [we] don’t want nuclear power either…nuclear power is a zero-carbon emission power that I think we should be doing a lot more of.

I think the conversation has got to be broadened, [and] I believe we should be exploring and trying to develop wind and solar and nuclear. But we can’t abandon fossil fuels until we have enough of those three—and maybe more that will come in the future but at least of those three—that can run the American economy, run the homes of American families, and continue to allow us to be the country that we are.

I don’t doubt for a second that climate change exists and that human behavior contributes to it. Absolutely, I think the evidence is there. The question is how do you go about changing it. Radically moving away from fossil fuels when we do not yet have the capacity that renewables generate enough energy for a country of this size and scope, I think, is irresponsible.

Q
Another issue that’s insurance related that I know you’re passionate about is the opioid crisis. This comes into play in insurance a lot of times in the workers compensation arena. There are a lot of musculoskeletal injuries due to falls at work, for example. Talk to us about what we need to do on that front.
A

I think on the opioid front we have to get more coverage for and more availability of medication-assisted treatment. Some people can do it in a 12-step program. Some people can do it with talk therapy. But there is a large, large number of the people who are addicted across this country who that just doesn’t work for. I think that we need to get much smarter about covering that cost and having more doctors licensed to be able to prescribe medication-assisted treatment. Right now you have to go through, in most states, a really specialized licensing for medication-assisted treatment—that, by the way, you don’t need [in order] to prescribe the underlying opioid, which started the addiction to begin with. That’s asinine and is blind to the depth of the crisis. So I think that medication-assisted treatment is a big part of the solution going forward.

I think—and this is a place where employers can play a role as well—is to lessen the stigma attached to this. [Addiction] has got to be seen like heart disease and diabetes and cancer. It’s a disease. And it’s a disease, yes, that human conduct can help to create, just like heart disease and cancer and diabetes. But we don’t stigmatize those people—we treat them. We try to elongate their lives and improve the quality of their lives. In the very same way, we’ve got to deal with the disease of addiction and understand that it is a disease and that we do have the capacity to treat many people. But because of the stigma, we’re not doing that. I think that’s a huge mistake.

Q
From the employer perspective, mental health issues are finally Ig more focus in employee benefits. So hopefully, potentially, that might be of use in this arena.
A
It’s really necessary. And the bigger discussion about mental health issues [playing a role] in violence as well. Both of those things, getting people more availability to mental health treatment, whether it’s drug related or behaviorally related, is really important to have a more civilized society.
Q
One last question for you. You mentioned you’re working on another book. So what’s next other than that for you?
A
We’ll see come 2024. I may decide to run for president again. I haven’t made that decision yet. I’m on five corporate boards, I have a consulting firm, I have a law firm, and I have a policy institute associated with Seton Hall University. All those things keep me really busy. But I’m also not ready to retire from political life. So we’ll make that decision in the next year or so, whether we want to take another crack at the only job in politics left that I’d want to have.
Sandy Laycox Editor in Chief Read More

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