Rep. Chris Smith: Behind the Curtain

How a 18-term Congressman uses misdirection to support his extremist agenda.

New Jersey’s District 4 Representative Chris Smith is has been in office since 1981. Thirty-six years. If you ask around the district, you’ll find that many people believe that he’s representing them well. He appears to be involved in a lot of positive work in and around the area, giving the impression that he’s always getting things done for them. They say he’s one of the good ones in Congress.

But, during this time in office, he’s managed to achieve shockingly little. He’s only authored a whopping three bills that directly affect his constituents (all three are post office dedications). And what he has accomplished is largely in conflict with the views of those he represents.

Let’s take a closer look at what he’s been up to.

Taking Credit Where It Isn’t Due

Red Bank’s Count Basie Theater recently broke ground on a large expansion project. Smith was in attendance for the ceremony. “Smith Helps Break Ground on Count Basie Expansion” reads the headline on Smith’s website.

In reality, holding a hard hat and shovel for photos was Smith’s only involvement in this project. He didn’t aid in the development, planning or funding for the expansion. It was financed privately, by the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, musician Steven van Zandt of the E Street Band, and other philanthropists in the area.

Being present only for photo opportunities is the cornerstone of Smith’s Congressional career. In the past year, he’s exclusively returned to NJ for these kind of events: the ground-breaking in Red Bank, a ribbon-cutting in Sea Girt, a memorial dedication in Toms River, and a museum event in Wall. The list goes on and on.

Here’s Rep. Chris Smith speaking at several events he had no involvement in.

His absence at community-driven events is equally predictable. He didn’t attend the NJ Pride rally, Immigrant Rally in Red Bank, or any of the anti-hate rallies across the state. When constituents held a town hall for him to answer public questions on healthcare, he refused the invitation. He hasn’t attended one in over 23 years.

It’s a consistent and calculated pattern. Smith presents himself as having involvement in safe, uplifting projects, but he’s only there when the cameras are on. He gives a scripted speech at a podium, and never answers questions from his constituents. Through this method, Smith maintains complete control over his public appearances.

Soft Stances & Misdirecting Legislation

More troublesome than his physical absence in his district is his amorphous positions on many key issues. His silence and inaction on key issues leaves his constituency guessing on many fronts.

During recent attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, there was a large public outcry from the district. Under President Obama, Smith had voted over 50 times to attempt to repeal the law. Despite countless calls, emails, and office visits, he refused to give his constituents a solid answer on his position. When the time came, Smith thankfully voted no. This vote came with no accompanying statement or indication of his reasoning.

In the wake of the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, many looked to their Congress person to leadership against hate. In District 4, Smith offered only a vapid tweet urging reconciliation with white supremacists:

Smith urging “reconciliation” with white supremacists.

In spite of this, Smith publicly touts his hard work combating hate and anti-Semitism. To his credit, a recent bill of his, “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act,” purports to do exactly that. It would elevate the role of the Special Envoy within the State Department, establishing the fight against anti-Semitism as a high priority.

However, this bill is solely for show. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has cut many Special Envoy roles and questions their effectiveness. The Envoy that Smith aims to empower likely will not exist by the time the bill passes.

Similarly, Smith recently introduced the “Bindu Philips and Devon Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act of 2017.” The bill seeks to impose economic penalties on countries that do not comply with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The bill made a big PR splash for Smith, but will protect domestic abusers.

At surface level, this appears to be a safe piece of legislation on a bipartisan issue. Preventing child abduction is an obvious crowd pleaser, who could be against a bill that appears to reduce it? Digging a bit deeper, it becomes clear that this isn’t a straightforward issue.

The Hague Convention, which this bill would enforce, is a controversial international treaty that requires the return of children who’ve been removed from the country by a parent without the consent of the other. Problematically, the law ignores any underlying custody cases.

The law makes no distinction for cases in which the “abductor” is a victim of domestic violence, it disproportionately affects against mothers who have fled with their children to safety. This accounts for as many as 70% of International Abduction cases. As a result, many human rights organizations vocally oppose the Hague Convention. Many countries, such as India and Brazil, have refused to sign the law for the same reason.

Smith’s feel-good bill would likely not prevent child abduction, but it would have the collateral effect of shielding domestic abusers. In the context of Smith’s Congressional record, it’s not a stretch to say that this is his goal. With this bill, Smith intends to preserve the conservative ideal of the nuclear family at any cost.

An Extremist in a Moderate’s Clothing

There are a select few issues for which Smith takes a strong stance: women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, and enforcing conservative culture. Throughout the years, he’s kept an intense focus on these issues. Smith has authored and co-sponsored countless pieces of legislation enforcing conservative culture in any way he can.

Contrary to most other issues, his statements here have been loud and clear for decades:

“When it comes to the moral issues, they seek to remake America as the culture of death. The second four years, the second term of a Barack Obama will be significantly worse in terms of extremism in promoting both the abortion issue as well as the homosexual agenda.”—Rep. Chris Smith

And this one’s a doozy:

I do not construe homosexual rights as human rights. The (Obama) Administration’s views on LGBT rights affected or hindered our support for Nigeria” — Rep. Chris Smith

What’s shocking about Smith’s views on these issues is that they are incredibly archaic and unpopular. They have no place in the deep blue state of New Jersey. A recent poll found that 72% of the state is pro-choice and 76% support gay marriage.

Smith defends his views as being devoutly Catholic. However, Church leadership has moved significantly on these issues. Pope Francis has allowed his priests to forgive abortion, signaling acceptance of the pro-choice movement. Prominent Cardinals have begun to welcome gay rights with open arms.

Smith’s extreme stances are not popular amongst his constituency. Source:

Unfortunately, Smith has been ruthlessly enforcing his views as policy for throughout his 18-term tenure. His extremist record on Women’s Rights and LGBTQ equality has earned him a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign and a 5% rating from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Let’s run through a few key moments in his career:

Smith has a few pieces of legislation currently on the Congress floor. One intends to completely defund Planned Parenthood. The other seeks to protect the unborn under hate crime law, a protection Smith refused to grant LGBTQ individuals.

Taking His Act Global

When it comes to foreign policy, Smith uses his role the Chairman of Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights to impose his beliefs on developing nations.

He spent weeks in Kenya — on taxpayers’ dime — interfering Kenyan politics to ensure abortion is banned in their newly drafted Constitution. During this time, he publicly fought local politicians on the issue, and used his platform as leverage to affect Kenyan policy.

In 2014, Smith traveled to Nigeria on a human rights mission. There he met with President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss bringing more international support to fight the Boko Haram extremist group local to the area, which Smith viewed as an attack on Christianity. This was the extent of their discussion.

Under President Jonathan’s leadership, Nigeria has a long list of documented human rights violations including overt government and police corruption, lack of social rights for women and LGBTQ, child labor and child marriage, and no freedom of religion. In spite of all this, Smith returned from the meeting claiming that the U.S.’s opposition of anti-LGBTQ legislation as the largest obstacle hindering our diplomatic relationship with the country.

That same year, Nigeria banned same-sex marriages and made homosexual relations punishable with a 14-year jail sentence. Smith’s remarks were condemned by the Human Rights Campaign.

The only reasonable explanation is that Smith is enabled to continue enforcing his archaic, extreme policy views simply because the American public is unaware. To shed some light, you can read more details about his record below:

Above all other factors, Smith’s skill for assuming credit for feel-good projects in the area has kept him in office for 18 terms–but it’s entirely smoke and mirrors. He isn’t present for nor on the popular side of anything of substance. The few issues he’s fixated on for decades don’t represent his constituency.

Through his skillful illusionary press events and legislation, Smith presents himself as a moderate. When the fog is lifted, it’s clear that Smith is no moderate — he is a socially-backwards conservative extremist. After 18 terms, it’s long overdue that New Jersey’s District 4 had a Representative that actually fights for us and takes bold positions that move us forward.

Thanks for reading! I’m Jim Silverman, the product designer behind MeetMidway. You can follow me on Medium, Twitter, or Dribbble.

I support Jim Keady for Congress, but my views are my own.