During the nearly 10 years I ran Garden State Equality as its founder and executive director, I met with then-Governor Chris Christie a number of times to try to convince him to sign pro-LGBTQ legislation. Our relationship was more complex than that you might expect between a governor and his state’s gay rights leader.
I agreed with Christie on almost nothing and fought his administration on a wide variety of progressive issues, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ alike. For the first couple of years of his Administration – before White House fever had gone to his head – his door was always open and his staff responded quickly to my calls with no hint of disdain you’d probably find from some of his ruby red-state counterparts.
Christie, to be sure, was no Phil Murphy, the state’s most progressive Governor in my lifetime, and in my view, the best New Jersey Governor in my lifetime. But my job, as an advocate, is to get along with any Governor of either party to keep that door as open as I can.
In 2012, I met with Christie to try to persuade him not to veto the bill for marriage equality that both houses of the state legislature had passed earlier in the year. I knew it was a lark, as Christie and his staff already had one eye focused on the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, which in their eyes began with a landslide reelection in 2013. Marriage equality was no winning issue among the far-right national Republican electorate that wound up nominating Donald Trump.
Christie began our meeting by speaking in broad terms about two hot-button social issues, marriage equality and another issue I had not even brought up: A woman’s right to choose, which of course I support. Having done his homework to call me “Steven” rather than “Steve,” a nickname I have never used, he said “Steven, look, you think I care about whether you get married? I don’t believe any of that nonsense about gay marriage ruining the institution of marriage. It’s a bunch of crap. But come on, you know I can’t sign the bill.” In other words, it would not be a good look for a future run in Republican Presidential primaries.
Then he changed the topic to reproductive choice. “Steven, I was pro-choice until I saw an ultrasound photograph and could see the outlines of baby. It hit me in the gut and I changed my position. I’m pro-life and it’s something I truly believe.”
Fast forward to May 2020. Chris Christie, echoing statements we’ve heard from President Trump and his current Republican Governor allies, told Dana Bush on CNN that he, Christie, favored a middle ground between saving lives and getting the economy restarted. As Christie would have it, we should put aside new models that estimate COVID-19 deaths will spike dramatically because 29 states have reopened in whole or in part, or have announced they intend to.
A new model from the University of Washington has revised the number of COVID-19 deaths from 72,000 to 134,000 by August 1. As of this writing, May 5, we are nearly at 72,000 deaths already. A new model from the Trump Administration has revised its projected COVID-19 deaths from 2,000 a day to 3,000 a day nationwide.
When Dana Bash asked Christie if he thought Americans would be able to accept the dramatic increase in deaths from a reopened economy, Christie responded: “They’re gonna have to.”
Chris, how dare you? You, the Governor who looked me in the eye to describe yourself as pro-life, describing your stance as something you truly felt compared to your politically calculated opposition to marriage equality, now don’t give a damn about life?
The economy, you say, is more important than life? But what kind of economy will we have as people keep dying and dying because the country reopened prematurely?
Folks, let’s get real about the implication by Chris Christie and others, nearly all Republicans, who share his position. They are willing to sacrifice the lives of the most vulnerable Americans, namely seniors and those with disabilities, who don’t contribute enough, in their view, to the economy. They wouldn’t admit it, but that’s exactly what they’re saying when you look at whom COVID-19 is impacting disproportionally.
This grotesque, Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest proclamation is a new low for Christie and other Republican leaders across the nation who claim to care about life. By their logic, a fetus is worth more than the lives of women, men and children. By their logic, the daily count of the Dow Jones Industrial Average matters more than the daily count of the COVID-19 dead. Say Chris, why don’t we do a full nationwide opening right this minute and drive the Dow to 30,000? So what if perhaps half a million to a million more Americans die. The Dow is what counts, right?
I take it personally when leaders call for reopening the nation. The love of my life is my brother Richie, who has profound autism. I am his guardian and he is my heart. He lives in a group home in New York State, where he and other special needs residents are at high risk for COVID-19 because there’s no such thing as quarantining in a group home. Throughout the pandemic, I have spent day and night monitoring his health. Truth be told, the governments of New York State and in our own New Jersey have largely ignored the protocols needed for group home residents, including testing them for COVID-19 whether or not they have a fever or symptoms. That’s a whole other Darwinian story.
But back to you, Chris: Whose life will you sacrifice to improve the economy – my brother’s? Or would it be the life of the woman I consider my other mother, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, now 85, whom you never got along with anyway? Or do you want to sacrifice the lives of people of color whom COVID is impacting and killing disproportionately?
Chris, by your logic, the government might as well set up the “death panels” that Republicans claimed Obamacare would bring but never did.
This is “pro-life”? This is leadership?
No, Chris. This is the most heinous thing you’ve ever suggested, and you owe an apology to all of us who fight day and night in this pandemic to keep our most vulnerable loved ones alive.