With Gov. Chris Christie continuing to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on the state's school funding mandate, he and his opponents have been using a flurry of education metaphors to make their points.
First came Christie's recent attack on the "Do-Nothing Legislature," begun two weeks ago, where he castigated the Democratic-led state Senate and Assembly for failing to pass eight different reforms - a list he summarized in a report card covered in F's.
But in response, Democrats this week came back with a sort of class quiz, testing readers on their knowledge of the governor's package of bills affecting municipal spending, known as the "toolkit."
"Now we know King Christie and his court have a hard time filling out questionnaires and things of that nature," Senate Democrats said in issuing the quiz. "But we encourage them to give it the old college try ... assuming of course that they can afford college since they are trying to eliminate tuition caps."
A low score on the quiz, Dems concluded, "means you are a member of King Christie's court ... or the king himself."
The move showed Democrats have raised the rhetoric in another way - referring to Christie as if he's acting beyond the authority of the Governor's Office. The reference to the state's blunder over last year's Race To The Top education-grant questionnaire added to a bumbling image on education and other policy.
"He's out of touch," said Keith Gonzales, a Democratic campaign consultant who visited Atlantic City on Friday to hear how candidates and party leaders handicap the coming months' legislative elections.
As if to underscore the message of Christie's authoritarian stance, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, told a crowd she thought that Christie had so little tolerance for alternate points of view that New Jersey "may as well enlist Queen Elizabeth and establish a monarchy."
'Lack of democracy'
In a different forum, the same kind of tone emerged Wednesday, as heads of Urban Enterprise Zones gathered to put together a plan to save the economic-development program.
UEZs, which offer sales-tax breaks and other business incentives, are confined mostly to urban areas, which according to demographic models tend to vote Democratic. So an assembly of urban mayors may not include many Christie supporters.
Mayor Chris Bollwage, of Elizabeth, one of several mayors who say Christie's cuts have been made without debate, quickly showed how budget discussions slip into partisan rhetoric.
Bollwage accused Christie of being undemocratic in his approach.
"There's a lack of democracy in Trenton," Bollwage said, "because there's one guy who makes all the decisions."
OPRA requests denied
Elsewhere in Trenton, requests for public records are playing a role in local elections for state legislators.
Assemblyman Vince Polistina, who will challenge Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, for his seat, said an Open Public Records Act request filed with the Atlantic City Board of Education had been denied by the Board's Solicitor. Polistina is seeking information on whether Whelan received payments in lieu of health care benefits.
Board Solicitor Mark Toscano turned down the request, calling it "individual health information," which he said in a written response is not covered by open public records requests.
Polistina called that decision a "red herring" and has publicly asked Whelan to release the information.
This is not the first time public records requests have been wielded in the early days of the 2nd district campaign. Keith Davis, chairman of the Atlantic County Republicans, asked last month for information from Freeholder Alisa Cooper, who is running as Whelan's running-mate for one of the district's Assembly seats.
Davis has asked Copper to detail her attendance and actions in meetings of the state Council on the Arts.
Davis said she should explain her role in any votes to award public contracts that have since been ruled to have violated ethics rules.
Cooper said at the time she would release that information.
People and Power by Juliet Fletcher, The Press of Atlantic City's Statehouse Bureau reporter, appears every Sunday. Fletcher can be reached at: