Christie Gets History Class after Talking Too Much

By Stile, Charles | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 31, 2012 | Go to article overview

Christie Gets History Class after Talking Too Much


Stile, Charles, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


A week ago, the state's top gay rights advocate hailed Governor Christie as a civil rights hero for nominating a gay black man to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

But on Monday, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a Civil Rights-era icon "who left a little blood on that bridge in Selma," accused Christie of ignorance.

"Apparently, the governor of this state has not read his recent history books," Lewis said in a news conference outside the Trenton train station with Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Rep. Rush Holt, a Central Jersey Democrat. "Maybe he has not watched a segment of the 'Eyes on the Prize,' " the award-winning documentary about the Civil Rights movement.

Christie ended his State of the State address earlier this month, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King -- "We may have come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."

But he found himself treading in hot water after matter-of- factly asserting after a town hall forum last week that "people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South."

It was a bona fide Christie blunder. He's smart, aggressive and combative on his feet, and he can send his most strident foes slinking for cover. But Christie was blindsided by his biggest foe: himself. Sometimes he talks off-message. Sometimes he talks too much. And sometimes, as in this case, those factors collide, making for a self-inflicted wound.

Christie donned his historian's cap after a town hall forum in Bridgewater. He was making his case why a proposal to legalize same- sex marriages in New Jersey should be decided by voters in a referendum vote, not legislated. His goal was to deflate criticisms from gay rights activists and Democrats, who accused him of punting on the issue because a voter referendum would legalize gay marriages by amending the constitution, a step that does not require his signature.

But his historical analysis unleashed a torrent of criticism from African-American officials, gay rights advocates and Democrats, who accused the governor of revisionism. They offered Christie an unsolicited refresher course in Civil Rights 101.

And on Monday, they brought in a professor emeritus in Lewis, a planner and keynote speaker of the famous 1963 March to Washington, a scarred survivor of the "Bloody Sunday" march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Ala., in March 1965, part of a series of catalytic events that led to the Voting Rights Act later that year - - a landmark piece of legislation passed by Congress, not by referendum. …

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