Barbara Buono Goes All-In Against Chris Christie [AUDIO]
A progressive Democrat who is not afraid to buck her own party.
That's one way to describe State Senator Barbara Buono, but as of this moment in time she's most commonly referred to as the only Democrat to officially announce a gubernatorial campaign against popular incumbent Governor Chris Christie.
Buono was born and raised in New Jersey. She's a first generation American on her dad's side. Her father, who passed away when she was 19, was an immigrant who came to America when he was 3-years-old and dropped out of high school to support his family. Buono says her parents taught her the value of hard work and a good education. She grew up modestly in Nutley on the second floor of a walk-up rental. Her parents slept on a hide-a-bed. Buono and her three sisters shared a bedroom.
She says her upbringing shaped who she is today.
"I was able to work my way through Montclair State," says Buono. "It (college) was affordable back then and then there were jobs to pay for the loans when you graduated. I always grew up thinking that if your kids worked hard enough that they'll be able to surpass your accomplishments and that to me is the American dream and I just see that becoming less of a reality for a lot of kids today."
Buono says New Jersey's jobless rate is the top issue for her.
She explains, "We cannot shy away from discussing how New Jersey stacks up against the rest of the states in terms of economic competitiveness because that's going to determine the future of our families and New Jersey's hurting."
We are losing good jobs to other states says Buono and the top priority must be creating opportunities for Garden Staters to have good paying jobs.
She says, "I just don't see that this Governor (Christie) has focused on that. Too many people are being left out of the equation. The middle class is struggling to pay their mortgages and their property taxes."
Lowering property taxes and making college more affordable for everyone are two more key planks in Buono's campaign platform.
Most political pundits and so-called experts say Buono creates the greatest contrast when compared to Christie and she embraces that. Buono says she would have accepted $3 billion in federal funding to build the ARC tunnel that Christie scrapped. She would not have pulled New Jersey out of the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Buono says the tunnel and the RGGI would have been job creators.
Asked if she would, as Governor, sign bills into law that would legalize same-sex marriage and increase income taxes on millionaires (bills Christie has vetoed), Buono laughs as she says, "That's a rhetorical question, right? Yes, of course I would sign them."
Many political experts say all eyes are really on Newark as Democrats wait for word from Mayor Cory Booker as to whether he will primary Buono and mount a run against Christie.
She is very familiar with the talk, but insists, "I don't focus on that. What I'm focused on is talking to community leaders across the state, letting people get to know me and I'm confident that once people get to know me and my message that my name recognition will grow."
The Christie campaign calls Buono a typical tax-and-spend liberal and is among those Christie refers to as 'Corzine Democrats.'
She says, "I'm a person of conviction. I stand up for what I believe in. There's a very low bar for politicians and people have a hard time believing that people in public office will do that. I've always been a fierce advocate for property tax relief. It's not surprising that the Governor attacks me. I was one of his vocal critics when his answer to the flagging economy was to propose an income tax cut that would've disproportionately benefited millionaires."
Buono insists she was never against public employee pension and health benefits reform, but she did not think both reforms should be rolled into one bill and that's why she didn't support it. Buono explains, "I stood firm and that's why I'm no longer Majority Leader."
She's not Majority Leader anymore, but she is officially a Democratic candidate for Governor and it's an all-in gamble. Should she win a Democratic gubernatorial primary, Buono cannot simultaneously run for Governor and run to retain her seat in the State Senate.