As he attempted to clarify a controversial comment he made last week about same-sex marriage and civil rights, Gov. Chris Christie Monday called openly gay Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) “numbnuts.”
The name-calling came as the governor tried to clear up the comment he made in regards to his call for a voter referendum on same-sex marriage in New Jersey instead of the Democratic-controlled Legislature sending him a bill to legalize it. He has voted to veto the proposal.
Christie set off controversy when he said, “The fact of the matter is I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South.”
At a Statehouse press conference, Christie said, “The political climate in the South didn’t give them the option to have a referendum back then.” He later added, “They wished they would have had the option, but the political climate did not permit it, meaning they would not win.”
On Thursday, Gusciora said, “Govs. Lester Maddox and George Wallace would have found allies in Chris Christie over efforts by the Justice Department to end segregation in the South.”
In response, Christie on Thursday called Gusciora “numbnuts.” The governor said Democratic response to his initial comment shows they are “politically desperate.”
Gusciora on Monday said, “The governor constantly reverts to name-calling when he is unable to address issues on their merits. The fact is the governor's opposition to the civil right of marriage equality is comparable to others who opposed other civil rights. If he doesn't like the comparison, then he should change his position on marriage equality and sign the bill into law.”
In a related development, Rep. John Lewis, a well known civil rights leader, visited the Statehouse Thursday at the invitation of Democratic legislators to discuss Christie’s recent civil rights referendum.
Lewis told The Star-Ledger he thought the governor's comment was a "big blunder."
"I just thought it was unbelievable, unreal," Lewis said. "He's a lawyer, governor and not to know that putting the issue of civil rights -- segregation and racial discrimination in the American south -- to a vote? We would never have made it during the 40s, the 50s or the 60s. Most of the governors, except for a few states were outright segregationist. And most of the states of the old confederacy, people of color could not register to vote."
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) said of Lewis' visit, "...he comes to our capital city at a time when civil rights and one of the great events in human history - the triumph of the American ideal of liberty and equality for all over deep-rooted and brutal segregation - has been flipped into an unfathomable sound bite by our governor.
“Governor Christie wants to take a pass on civil rights by sending it to referendum, arguing this is OK because everything would have turned out just fine had Freedom Fighters in the South simply demurred to voters rather then fighting in the streets for their inalienable rights," Oliver said. "Congressman Lewis knows the governor's insensitive sentiment lacks reality. John Lewis was there when black citizens were denied the right to even register to vote and were horribly beaten - even killed - if they tried."
Christie had a breakfast meeting Thursday with state NAACP leaders and he said they understand that he did not intend his comment on a civil right referendum to be “racially insensitive.”
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM