Whitman Makes Florio Look Good
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
I owe former Governor Jim Florio an apology. For several years I
have been very critical of Florio's often combative, in-your-face
style. I said he did not understand the people part of politics
and that he was not particularly good at listening to other people's
points of view, particularly when it came to raising taxes.
I interviewed Florio on numerous occasions and every time it turned
out to be a less pleasant experience than the last. In all those
years, I never remember him smiling when it didn't seemed forced.
When Florio lost to Whitman in 1993, I was kind of glad he was gone.
Now we had a fresh-faced, kinder, gentler Governor who could relate
to people. Even when I disagreed with Whitman's politics (like cutting
the income tax by 30% overnight or borrowing money to artificially
balance the state budget), I would always say "at least she's
not Jim Florio."
Years later I still feel that Christie Whitman was not Jim Florio.
But that is not necessarily a good thing and apparently I am not
the only one who thinks that. A new Fairleigh Dickinson University
poll found that for the first time Christie Whitman's unfavorable
rating is higher than the champion income tax raiser Jim Florio.
While 42% of the respondents said they have a very or somewhat unfavorable
view of Florio, 50% said the same of Whitman. Among independent
voters, 57% said they disliked Whitman, only 45% disliked Florio.
Among her own Republicans, 36% said they did not like Whitman, while
only 25% of Democrats said no to Florio.
Bottom line? The further we get away from their respective tenures,
the more we see that Jim Florio had many qualities that Christie
Whitman lacked. The biggest is that even if you disagreed with Florio
you couldn't accuse him of not caring about the state. No one could
say he wasn't fully engaged in being Governor. Florio was passionate
about raising taxes as the only responsible way to respond to a
court mandate to provide more funding to urban schools while balancing
the state budget. He may have done all this with a less than charming
personality, but no one could question his commitment to governing.
Christie Whitman was a whole other story. Looking back, I am not
sure she really wanted to be Governor. I didn't think she ever really
understood what the job was and what it could be. My sense was that
it was sort of something neat for a rich Republican woman of privilege
to do who was not particularly busy otherwise.
Whitman never really cared much for the process of governing, negotiating
or compromising. Most legislators, including Republicans, say that
she never even spoke to them. Whitman never cared to deal with the
Legislature as an important branch of government that she needed
to bring on board to move her agenda forward.
that's another thing. I don't think Whitman ever really
had an agenda other than cutting the income tax really quickly and
then moving on to some other unspecified higher office. I am not
even sure she really wanted to run again in 1997. Did she really
want to be Governor for another four years? If Bush hadn't won,
her last year or so in office would have been torturous for her
Finally, lets talk about New Jersey. Jim Florio clearly loves our
state and sees himself as a part of it. He still wants to improve
things and has strong opinions on policies to make things better.
He is visible out there much like Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean. Christie
Whitman? Forget it. Once she left to take that environmental job
in the Bush Administration she disappeared. She kind of slipped
out of the state and then slips back in. I am not saying she needs
to put out a press release every two weeks, but my sense is that
Christie Whitman just doesn't fit in with the rest of the state.
She's not one of us. Never was. Most New Jerseyeans sense that and
that's why she has knocked Jim Florio out of the top spot as New
Jersey's most unpopular public figure.
Sorry Jim Florio, I owe you an apology. The more I think of Christie
Whitman the more I appreciate you.
Steve Adubato, Ph.D. is an Emmy Award-winning television anchor
and syndicated columnist. He is also the author of the book "Speak
from the Heart." His past columns can be found on the Web at
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