New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has parlayed his persistent support for school vouchers into a robust reelection endorsement from Bishop Reginald Jackson, one of the most powerful black ministers — and one of the most powerful ministers, period — in the state.
A total of 10 other black ministers also publicly endorsed the Republican, reports The Record, a Bergen County newspaper.
At a Tuesday news conference in Trenton with Christie and black ministers from around the state, Jackson noted that he remains committed to the Democratic Party and that he had given his political blessing to Christie’s opponent, then-Gov. Jon Corzine, in 2009.
The bishop described his frustration that Christie’s opponent, Barbara Buono, and other Democrats refuse to support the Opportunity Scholarship Act. The bill would provide publicly-funded scholarships for children in failing urban schools so they could attend a public school or a private school somewhere else, according to the Hunterdon County Democrat.
Opponents of the bill, including the New Jersey Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, cite a lack of evidence that vouchers will help students in failing schools. Instead, they want to upgrade public education.
After describing Buono as a “wonderful, warm and genuine person,” Jackson explained his view that education is the most important political issue for The Garden State and unleashed a devastating attack on the state senator.
“A quality education is a civil right, and it is sad for me to see my party, which embraced the civil rights movement, now in New Jersey blocking low-income and minority children from escaping the slavery of failing schools,” Jackson said.
“Senator Buono genuinely feels that low-income parents and their children in failing schools should not receive scholarships, but that they should wait while we fix the public schools.”
He also excoriated black politicians in the state.
“My disappointment is that every day, they see children who are not getting a quality education, and that doesn’t seem to move them,” he charged, according to the Hunterdon broadsheet. “There’s not a single African-American legislator who has had or who has a child of school age whose child goes to public school.”
Jackson said the last straw for him was when Democrats in the state legislature failed to approve a $2 million school vouchers pilot program that Christie had proposed as part of this year’s $33 billion budget.
“I and my colleagues here today gladly, and strongly, and unapologetically endorse Chris Christie for reelection and commit to work with him as he seeks to help our children and our community,” Jackson declared.
In his remarks, Jackson noted that he has many disagreements with the governor, notes The Bergen Record. He highlighted the high unemployment rate, particularly for minorities, and Christie’s veto of a bill that would have raised the minimum wage.
“But I have never endorsed anybody who I agreed with everything on,” he said.
The governor spoke after Jackson was finished.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” Christie said in his remarks. “For 30 years, we’ve been telling families in our inner-cities, ‘Don’t worry; we’re going to get to fixing your schools. In the meantime, you just wait.'”
Christie also said that he hoped to make further inroads with the state’s poor urban voters.
“The fact is I think we need to have a revolution at the polls,” he said. “Candidly, I think the Democratic Party takes inner-city votes for granted.”
Other black ministers in the state have responded to Jackson’s speech, saying they disagree with him and his colleagues.
Rev. Kenneth Saunders and Rev. Ronald Owens released a joint statement in support of Buono, reports The Record. In the statement, they maintained that Christie is using “empty rhetoric” in an attempt to court minority voters.
“Governor Christie has done almost nothing to revitalize our cities, leaving nearly 400,000 people looking for jobs, our schools in desperate need of repairs, and little action to reduce gun violence,” the reverends contended.
“Throughout her career, Senator Buono has stood on the side of helping the people underserved by this administration. She has pushed to ensure that all children, no matter where they were born, have the same chance to receive a quality education and has fought tirelessly to stop the damaging consequences of gun violence.”
The Record also notes that Bishop Jackson’s wife, Christy Davis Jackson, is president and CEO of a nonprofit entity that advocates for school choice in cities.
In his speech, the bishop noted that the endorsement is personal. Jackson, who is the executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council, cannot legally back political candidates on behalf of the tax-exempt organization.
Jackson has not been averse to endorsing Republicans in the past. He previously endorsed Christie Whitman and Thomas Kean. Both won.