MANCHESTER, NH — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie entered and exited to a rousing song by his fellow Jersey boy, Bon Jovi, “We Weren’t Born to Follow,” and jumped right into the Q&A session, bringing a “no speeches” vibe to the No Labels Problem Solver Convention (streaming live until 6 p.m.)
Although well-intentioned, inevitably Christie ended up on the stump, answering questions while postulating his political position like a well-oiled campaigning machine.
But when he kept his answers short, they seemed to be from the heart — and one, “from the gut,” on why D.C. residents can’t get representation in Washington, D.C, and the right to vote.
“Ask me that question next week, when I come back for a town hall — let me look into it. It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to, but I will,” Christie said to the young questioner, who identified himself as a resident of Washington, D.C.
The event drew 1,500 or more in big round numbers — people came and went throughout the day, curiosity seekers drawn to the Radisson Hotel, like a huge comicon for the politically inclined, in the spirit of healing the great American political divide with a mantra of “fix, not fight.”
First question for Christie was on legalization of recreational marijuana, to which Christie said he would not bend on his position (he’s against it) until the federal law changes — he can’t support states going rogue.
Another question was on public education and how he would as president assure every kid has the opportunity for a “world class” education.
Christie said he agrees a good education is not just a human rights issue but a national security issue. He also said decisions about education and curriculum should continue to be made at the local level.
“The people who care the most about a child’s education are that child’s mother and father, and I want the decisions to be made as close to home as possible,” Christie said.
From there, Christie continued to field questions, town hall style, which seemed to satisfy the crowd. After all, it is politician-peeping season in New Hampshire, and they came, in part, for the promise of this kind of access.
But many of those in attendance said they came because they were intrigued by the idea of change.
“This is impressive,” said Priscilla Carpenter of Manchester, soon to be 88. “Can you imagine all these people here, especially the young people, interested in change? Can you imagine if something really changes?”
The No Labels Problem Solvers Convention is promising just that — if they can gain widespread support for a shift in “politics as usual,” which means away from partisanship and more aligned with the needs of the American people as a whole.
Independent voters were targeted by organizers, which brought together several presidential candidates, congressmen and senators of all political stripes, as well as special guest speakers, including a gaggle of celebrities representing something called The Creative Coalition. Actors took the stage and fielded questions, including Richard Kind from “Spin City,” Wayne Knight of “Seinfeld,” and Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad.”
But the focus was on stirring the crowd into action as New Hampshire prepares for a historic 2016 Presidential Primary election.
The No Labels movement outlines four primary goals — to create 25 million jobs in the next 10 years; to secure Social Security & Medicare for another 75 years; Balance the federal budget by 2030; make America energy secure by 2024.
It is a movement that was launched in 2010, according to the organization’s website. Co-chairmen are Jon Huntsman and Joe Lieberman, two former presidential hopefuls who have put aside whatever political differences they might have to lead a charge that, so far, appears to be resonating.
Harold Berry of Salem and his daughter, Laura, attended after hearing about the event through direct mailings and phone calls. They said they are both registered “Independent” voters, although Harold said he leans more conservative, “if you want to start throwing labels around.”
His daughter said she feels like the younger generation is put off by the “issues labels” assigned to each party — like the way Republicans are tied to gun control, for example.
She was looking forward to hearing from Christie because he’s “not vanilla,” and seems to be a straight shooter.
Carpenter decided to leave about halfway through Christie’s remarks.
“He’s campaigning, so I’m going to get going,” said Carpenter. “I can watch more on TV if I want to,” she said. “It was fun.”
Following Christie, Democratic presidential hopeful, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, appeared, via satellite, and got an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd.
He said he supports the idea of “No Labels” as a way of getting “beyond the ugliness of contemporary politics,” and personal attacks, before touching on some of his more salient campaign points, such as unemployment rates infrastructure and trade agreements.
He also said climate change is a far more pressing issue than energy independence and security, “but the way you address that is invest aggressively in wind and other sustainable energy solutions,” Sanders said.
After Sanders signed off, many of the attendees left the auditorium, and empty chairs — earlier impossible to come by — were removed from the venue.
Earlier in the day Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley and Republican Party Chair Jennifer Horn spoke about the political climate from a New Hampshire perspective, Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland spoke via livestream, and Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, and Bill Nelson, D-FLA, addressed the crowd.
Gov. Maggie Hassan also made an appearance, before the morning session wrapped up with Republican presidential hopefuls Sen. Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump – whose appearance resulted in one guy being escorted from the event during a Q&A, said Laura Berry.
“That was so distracting,” she said. “I don’t like it when it becomes about a particular candidate, or when people disrupt events like this. It takes away from the spirit of the event, which is supposed to be about hearing what everyone has to say.”
The afternoon sessions were to feature Gov. George Pataki of New York, Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, and Gov. John Kasich, R-OH.
For more on the No Labels platform, go to nolabels.org.
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