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3 Questions African Americans Should Ask Chris Christie

Image: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Christie acknowledges supporters during a kickoff rally in Livingston, New Jersey
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie acknowledges supporters as he formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kickoff rally at Livingston High School in Livingston, New Jersey, June 30, 2015. BRENDAN MCDERMID / Reuters

As the number of candidates has grown from a group to a sports to team to what now resembles the crowd during the closing credits of SNL, it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish which candidates really warrant much scrutiny.

Chris Christie became the 14th Republican candidate to declare and we can expect at least two more (John Kasich and Scott Walker) to announce this month.

If there’s anyone in the GOP who should feel accountable to African American primary voters it’s Christie. This is a particularly important constituency for him because unlike every other Republican contender, he boasts bringing in about 21 percent of the African American vote in his last re-election in 2014, a jump from only 9 percent in his first race in 2010.

African Americans, a key constituency for any contender in 2016, have a special set of concerns and asks for anyone running for president that are seldom directly addressed. Throughout the 2016 campaign season NBCBLK will examine the candidates' statements, campaigns, and policies to find out what they have to offer the black community. Hopefully their campaigns will feel compelled to respond.

Image: Gov. Chris Christie Discusses Candidates For Sen. Lautenberg's Seat
Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images

1. How will you implement criminal justice reform ?

Chris Christie has already been at the forefront of some criminal just reform measures in New Jersey. He fought for expanding drug courts that put offenders into treatment instead of prison (and this was over Democrats who actually wanted to delay the program). Governor Christie also dedicated a large part of his second inaugural address to criminal justice reform and pledged to make that a key part of his second term. However, as president he faces significant obstacles to such reform. African American voters should ask Christie how he would plan to improve or change criminal justice practices in the DOJ or the DEA if he were elected with likely are Republican Congress. This is especially important as Christie has remained silent on cases like the Zimmerman trial, he deferred on the Eric Garner case, and he pretty much gave a “no comment” on Ferguson.

2. What is the Chris Christie version of Washington bipartisanship ?

In his announcement speech yesterday Christie was in full 2012 mode, by chastising both political parties and decrying the lack of leadership in the Obama administration in foreign affairs. But within minutes he was back to talking about how he’d reach across the aisle to work on ideas that he and Democrats could agree upon. All of this sounds nice until you think of “Bridgegate.” While the scandal didn’t result in the kind of major charges against Christie that some expected African American voters should be wary of any candidate who has a reputation for being particularly punitive to those he disagrees with politically.

Bridgegate not only damages Christie’s reputation as a straight shooter, but also labels him as a bully who will punish opponents regardless of how that may impact innocent citizen bystanders. Black folks are often collateral damage in battles between political elites and Christie should explain to voters how he won’t let that happen under his presidency.

3. What about the Jobs?

During the last several years of the Great Recession, African American unemployment rates have slowly gone down to about 10 percent. (This is still worse than the 8.7 percent it was before Obama took office.) African American voters should ask Christie how effective he will be at helping to lift black voters out of poverty.

New Jersey has the fourth highest rate of long-term unemployment African Americans in the nation at 48.7 percent. (Mind you, New Jersey also led the nation in White long term unemployed people at 41 percent for 2013-2014, so Christie doesn’t seem to be doing a good job of lifting anyone’s status in the Garden State.)

An effective long term plan for getting America back to work would go a long way in establishing Christie not only as a legitimate contender for 2016 but also a viable competitor for African American voters.