New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered the keynote address to the New Jersey State NAACP Conference Saturday afternoon.
He touted some of the criminal-justice issues that he's worked on recently with African-American leaders, but over the course of his tenure as governor, Christie has an abysmal record when it comes to most issues that are important to communities of color.
Under Christie, New Jersey is being left behind as the rest of the nation recovers from the economic crisis. Our state has the nation’s fourth-highest foreclosure rate. A study (pdf) by Legal Services of New Jersey found that nearly a third of New Jerseyans live in poverty, including 780,000 children, and that black and Latino New Jerseyans have poverty rates three times higher than white New Jerseyans.
In 2013 New Jersey’s poverty rate increased for the sixth straight year, one of just three states in which the poverty rate rose, and we’re seeing the highest poverty rate in New Jersey in more than 50 years.
The burden of economic hardship is being borne by those least able to afford it. Christie refused to take advantage of an additional $172 million in potential federal funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, and vetoed legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage, both of which disproportionately affect people of color. Voters had to raise the wage via ballot measure, which passed by more than 20 points despite Christie’s opposition.
While Christie has distributed $4 billion in corporate tax incentives and limited property tax increases for individuals earning more than $150,000 annually, lower-income and middle-class families have seen property taxes that are already the highest in the nation increase by 20 percent under Christie. Christie effectively raised taxes on the working poor by cutting the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. He also slashed $1 billion in direct state aid to schools, gutting education funding that is so important to the African-American community.
And on an issue of particular significance to the NAACP, Christie attempted to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing. COAH was established to enforce the state Supreme Court’s decision on municipal affordable-housing obligations in the NAACP’s 1975 suit on behalf of black residents in Mount Laurel. Fortunately, Christie’s efforts to gut the program were stalled by the state Supreme Court.
Christie has earned a reputation for his larger-than-life, confrontational personality. It was on display when he made the unprecedented move of refusing to renominate New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, leaving the court without a single African-American member. But when the African-American community was hoping Christie would stand with them after the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, Christie was uncharacteristically silent, refusing to offer his opinion on the case and saying—petulantly—of the ruling: “If I don’t read it, I don’t have to answer.”
It’s no surprise the ACLU gave Christie a D-plus for his abysmal record on civil liberties and civil rights during his first term in office.
Christie’s willingness to speak to the NAACP audience is more than can be said of many of his colleagues in the Republican Party, but it alone is not enough—not even close. His African-American constituents are open to hearing what he has to say, but he should know that we’re skeptical of his record on the issues that matter most.
Bonnie Watson Coleman is a member of the New Jersey General Assembly, representing the 15th Legislative District since 1998. From 2006 to 2010 she was majority leader and from 2002 to 2006 she was chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee—the first black woman ever to serve in that role. She is the Democratic nominee for New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District. If elected on Nov. 4, she will be the first black woman to represent the Garden State in Congress.
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