This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published November 4, 2013 on Breitbart.com.
National civil rights leaders reacted to Democratic candidate for Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam refusing on camera to shake hands with his Republican opponent–right after confirming that he wants to massively expand government healthcare and not denying allegations that he thinks traditional Christians have no right to act according to their traditional-marriage views.
Dr. Alveda King–the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of America’s most prominent and respected civil rights leaders–said in a statement to Breitbart News:
I was saddened to learn today that Lt. Gov. candidate Ralph Northam refused to shake the hands of his opponent E.W. Jackson at the end of a television debate. I am deeply burdened by the loss of civility in politics today.
As one who has been elected to office as a Democratic Georgia State Representative, served as a Republican presidential appointee and who has often voted as an Independent, I have often said that we would all be better off without the political squabbles that tend to divide us. Refusing to shake hands with your opponent in front of a television audience takes the loss of civility to a new low. I would hope that his refusal to shake hands had nothing to do with the color of his opponent’s skin.
In a troubled economy, people are looking for leaders who can bring everyone together to solve the problems that confront us all. It is my hope that in these last hours of the race, Ralph Northam will recognize his inappropriate behavior and offer an apology to E.W. Jackson and to all those he hopes to represent.
Dr. King’s reference to skin color is because Northam is white, while Jackson is African-American.
Ken Blackwell from the American Civil Rights Union–who has been elected to public office more than a dozen times and also received presidential appointments and Senate confirmations to several federal offices–also offered his reaction exclusively to Breitbart News, saying:
The Founders of the American republic understood that democracy only works when both sides can at least be civil to their opponents. Virginia voters need to decide if that disqualifies Ralph Northam from being lieutenant governor of the Old Dominion.
People sometimes accuse politicians of being two-faced or insincere when they refer to bitter opponents as “my good friend” and pose for smiling photos with them. It’s not deception; it’s basic courtesy and respect, without which democracy cannot function.
In many countries, disagreements over policy end in brutal government oppression or even bloodshed. Politics can be so passionate with people clashing over views that an essential element of building goodwill and finding common ground is by working overtime to be courteous and complimentary. Unfortunately, Mr. Northam’s actions fall short of that important standard.
Virginia’s top Democratic candidates Terry McAuliffe (running for governor) and Northam have portrayed themselves as pragmatic centrists who are happy to reach across the aisle. But this video shows Northam won’t even reach across his chair.
After a lively debate, at 6:30 in the video, Jackson–the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor–attempts to shake hands with Northam, who will not shake it and doesn’t even look Jackson in the eye.
At first, a viewer might give Northam the benefit of the doubt that somehow he doesn’t see the extended hand. But Jackson dispels that doubt by taking his outstretched hand to tap Northam on the arm and then re-extends his hand almost into Northam’s lap. Northam still refuses to take it.
This comes on the heels of the final debate topic: gay marriage. The candidates had just differed on expanding government-run healthcare through Medicaid, beginning at 4:09 in the video. Northam said he supports adding 400,000 Virginians to government-run and taxypayer-funded healthcare, while Jackson said it would bankrupt Virginia, so private-sector options must be developed instead.
At 5:29, Jackson–a former Marine and Harvard-educated lawyer who is also a Christian minister–said he welcomes in Virginia both those who believe in traditional marriage and those who support same-sex marriage but that Northam believes people who do not embrace gay marriage have no place in Virginia. (One of Northam’s relevant statements is linked here.) Jackson adds that he believes that there is increasing intolerance of devout Christians on this issue and that Northam’s statements suggest anti-Christian bias.
While one would expect Northam to quickly say Jackson is completely misrepresenting his position, he does not deny Jackson’s claim. Instead Northam says that he supports gay marriage (using the poll-tested term “equality”) and then reasserts that he thinks all of Virginia should support gay marriage.
Virginia’s election is this Tuesday, Nov. 5.