The main opponent mentioned at the Republican Governors Assn. conference here — described in terms ranging from misguided to downright evil — is the other party, the Democrats.

But running a close second are the public employee unions, particularly the teachers unions.

"Frankly," said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, "the public employee unions would stick a shiv in all of us if they could."

The biggest laugh of the Thursday morning session came when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a joke out of a union's opposition to his proposal to require teachers to pay a portion of their health insurance costs.

"You laugh," Christie said. "That's the crap I have to listen to in New Jersey."

And among the lines most quoted and paraphrased among the governors was the comment in September from Scott Walker, now governor-elect of Wisconsin, regarding the need to trim the salaries and benefits of public employees: "We cannot and should not maintain a system where public employees are the haves and the taxpayers footing the bill are the have-nots."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on a panel discussion titled "Saving America," included among his ideas setting salaries and benefits of state employees "within the framework of the taxpayers'