Christine Todd Whitman Interview by Bob Szuter for The Power of the Governor(NJN, May 2011)
Power Summary / Veto powers
Whitman: Oh I certainly found during my time as Governor that the governorship of New Jersey was the most powerful for a whole host of different reasons. Everything from it being the only statewide elected official - save your two United States senators - to having the conditional veto, something at the time that I was Governor, I was the only Governor to have. Now I gather some have it. I mean, you have the line item veto which at that point again not every Governor had but the majority of them did to deal with budgetary items and taking a two-thirds vote to override but nobody had the conditional veto and it really gave the public an opportunity to know who was in charge and who to blame. I mean, sure, you worked with the legislature, you had the Supreme Court which determined a lot of things, but the Governor was really the one in charge and people knew that.
Conditional Veto / partial birth abortion / language
Whitman: There was one conditional veto that I did. It had to do with partial birth abortion and it was during my re-elect year in ’97. President Clinton had vetoed it at the federal level, sent it back to the States and since the legislature was up that year here in New Jersey they wanted to pass a partial birth abortion bill and they started drafting one which, when I looked at it, I told them was unconstitutional because the New Jersey Constitution requires protection of the life and health of the mother and I said, “I can’t sign this if you send it to me because I took an oath to uphold the Constitution.” It has nothing to do with my being pro choice, which I am, but that was not what the issue was and I guess for some reason they thought because it was an election year that I wouldn’t follow through on it but I did use the conditional veto and rewrote the bill in a way that would have for the first time in the state of New Jersey put some parameters and restrictions on third trimester abortions and I sent it back to them but they really wanted to be purist about it and it was the only time I was overridden. I had a conditional veto overridden and it was overridden and needless to say a third party candidate got into the race for Governor and I was followed around by people with signs showing dismembered babies saying that’s how many I had killed, and it was taken to court and after spending about 500,000 dollars of the taxpayers’ money they found out it was unconstitutional, which I had said from the beginning. But that was kind of the major time, the major bill in which I used it. You try not to use it. The straight veto is something but the conditional veto, you want to be careful about it although it works well. It works well for the legislature in that they can turn to their constituents and say, “Well I tried to give you this but that nasty old Governor took it out,” and you still get some progress on the issue.
Statewide exposure / no competitors on your staff
Whitman: Hadn’t really thought about it in those terms about the Governor being the most powerful Governor that had not been a consideration except understanding the uniqueness of the fact that it’s the only, as I said, statewide office except for the two United States senators. So your ability to get some experience statewide was very limited prior to running for Governor, and I ran for the United States Senate as a way — I mean, obviously I was running for the seat but also it gave me an opportunity to spend more time in other parts of the state in a very visible role, having been president of the Board of Public Utilities while statewide doesn’t give you that kind of visibility with the public in general. So I was very aware of that as a limitation and a strength. A limitation in the candidates that can run for office or get the exposure to be able to do it and a strength in that you don’t share that power with anyone and it means that your team is your team. I would look around at other states where some states even have Lieutenant Governors that don’t run as a team with the Governor. So you could be a sitting Governor with a Lieutenant Governor of the other party who wants to take your place and is constantly undermining you and the same very much true with an elected Attorney General or elected Secretary of State or Secretary of the Treasury. In New Jersey you appoint all those so that’s your team and that’s why, as I mentioned earlier, the public knows where to look for problems and solving them or who’s messed up because they really are your team. You’re the one who puts it together.
Budget certification / more on veto
Whitman: I had understood, as I say, the power of the Governor in being able to put together their own team. I hadn’t really looked at the constitutional issues such as the ability of the Governor to declare the revenues. I mean, that’s an enormously powerful tool. At the end of the day when you’re putting the budget together you certify the revenues. You present the budget. It is your budget. In some states it’s not. Some states the Lieutenant Governor puts it together and some states that’s the legislature that has the initiative on the budget process, not the Governor. The conditional veto was something I really hadn’t focused on before becoming Governor and as we started to get into the process, the conditional veto was really a last thing. As I say, you don’t really use it that much or you try not to use it that much but the revenue side of it, the putting your team together, the revenue side and the ability to initiate executive orders were things that you started to use right away.
Whitman: Extremely important. To have the ability to initiate executive orders was something again that allowed you to put in place the program that — or to start the ball rolling on programs where you might have had a reluctant legislature and you could get things started using that.
Two consecutive terms
Whitman: I looked around as a Governor at other Governors who only had one term or had to run every two years and thought that they had an enormous barrier to really being able to put into place the kinds of things that they wanted to do, and if you run on a platform of initiatives that you want to accomplish, trying to do it in two years when you’re a lame duck after your first year is nigh unto impossible and frankly four years I don’t think is enough to get things done. I would if I were doing terms for the legislative side and then I would include the executive too. If you don’t get what you want done in 12 years you’re never going to get it done and you ought to be out but that ought to apply to everybody.
Line item veto
Whitman: Line item veto was something that we used quite a bit in the budget and again it was an important tool because it helped you stay within the parameters of spending and enabled us to ensure that that first year’s budget that I had was less than the previous year and the next one stayed flat and that we kept expenditures to the rate of inflation and the rate of growth in the state of New Jersey.
Two-thirds of the Legislature needed to override a veto
Whitman: The two-thirds majority to override a veto is enormously important. It’s very hard to get, particularly if you have a split legislature. I did not have a split legislature and the Republicans controlled both houses. So it changed the dynamic and I think it probably would have been better if one house had been in the hands of the other party, at least for part of the time because that does create a different dynamic. But that is something that makes the Governor very, very powerful, particularly when exercising the conditional veto.
Only statewide elected / your team
Whitman: . … I said being the only statewide elected official really sets you apart as Governor of New Jersey and as I have mentioned before, it means that you’re putting together a team that’s responsive to you and that means that you can really focus on the issues on which you want to focus. You can say, “That’s a problem I want to solve, you figure out here’s how I’d like to go about it. You tell me if I’m crazy. You tell me if this is really a problem that needs solving.” But it means you’re all working together and you’re not having to worry about someone trying to establish their own record so they can run against you in another couple of years and I think it makes it much more productive. The Governor of New Jersey can be much more productive than many other Governors who are hamstrung by having members of the other party or people who want to unseat them and their cabinet having been elected independently.
Control team and appointments / Gov dictates policy
Whitman: Having the ability to appoint and remove cabinet members is essential again to having the kind of administration that you want to have. Fortunately I only ran into this situation once with a cabinet member where while they hadn’t done anything illegal they had skated too close to the line for my satisfaction and I had to remove them. It wasn’t a pleasant thing, it wasn’t something I wanted to do, again because the person had really — it was a dumb thing they’d done, nothing prima facie illegal. But it enables you to establish a tone for an administration to say, “Look, you’ve got to live up to my standards. You’ve got to do it the way we think it needs to be done.” I mean, I was all for people arguing and pushing back but once the decision had been made they should all be on the team and the understanding that they served at the will and the pleasure of the Governor helped ensure that, except if you ever got to a place and fortunately I never had this happen, although I did later in life when I was a member of a cabinet, if you get to a place where you’re just not comfortable with the decisions being made, you move on but that’s your volition.
Whitman: The appointment process is a plus and a minus. It works both ways. Again, it allows you to get people in place with whom you’re comfortable. It also, frankly, it’s part of the political process. You pay people off. Presumably you’re making sure that they’re good and they’re right for that position but they are people who have been your supporters. Anybody tells you differently is blowing smoke, and that happens in every state and Governors do that. But New Jersey you have many more to appoint so it gives you more leverage. Again, the most important thing is to ensure that they have some qualifications for the positions you put them in but I’ve seen it happen where that was not always the case. It was just kind of a pure reward for good service and being loyal. But it’s, again, important. The problem you get into in New Jersey particularly, and I don’t know how it is really in other states, is that number of the boards and commissions to which you appoint people, they are quasi-independent and that means you can appoint them but you don’t have total control over that department or agency or that particular agency or board and they can get out of control sometimes and you may not have the majority of the board of the appointments, which is the other issue, so that it can get awkward at times.
Accountability / Culpability of appointments, reach
Whitman: There is a lot of responsibility and culpability in being the Governor of New Jersey, and I think the culpability is a good part. Obviously I, while I could receive minutes, I didn’t go through the minutes of every agency, that you have your various people in the Governor’s office, particularly counsel’s office that goes through those things. You have the appointments people, you have people who are watching you, point people to oversee each one of the agencies. Again, as I said, you don’t always have all the appointments on those agencies and while they report to the Governor you can’t necessarily remove everyone. Some are local appointments, some are legislative appointments that go on these boards and commissions as well and you have to respect those. You don’t control those.
Appointments envied by others / power in appointing, but culpable
Whitman: Same deal, uh-huh. Same deal. The Governor of New Jersey is just enormously powerful. I’d go to National Governors’ Association meetings and other Governors would just shake their heads. “You get to appoint all those people? Boy I wish I had that power.” When you say, “Yep, all the prosecutors, all the judiciary except for one level that the Chief Justice gets to appoint.” They just were amazed at it, and again, as long as you don’t abuse it and you’re putting people in those places that pass the smell test, that have a reason for being there, I think it’s a healthy process. Again, I like the idea that you are responsible as the Governor and the public knows that. So if things start to go wrong they know where to look and you should have that. Otherwise you get people and you can see it happen in other states where they start blaming one another. “It wasn’t me, it was the other guy,” and finger pointing doesn’t always solve problems.
Case study in power – Welfare Reform
Whitman: Oh gosh there were a number of things. Everything from when we finally did the welfare reform, particularly early on. That one took a lot of work with a lot of different pulling the agencies in, working with the legislature, using the power of the Governor to structure that, spending time on that one in Washington to work with the federal government so that they would allow the states the leeway to make decisions that were reflective of the needs of the community in their state. That took using a lot of the different powers and bringing together a number of the different agencies and boards that were appointed to go through the process to see what was right. How could you provide support, let’s say, for a single mom you want to get back into the workforce but they have no one to take care of their child. You’ve got to recognize that. That’s a real need. They care about their children as much as anybody else. So getting the ability and getting the legislature to go along getting the departments and the agencies to say, “We can do this,” and providing funding and a structure by way that would allow a grandmother to take over the child or to be able to reimburse the welfare recipient for job training. Those kinds of things. That brought really everybody into play and a lot of the Governors’ powers to do it. Auto insurance reform did too when we got to that.
Open Space / The bully pulpit
Whitman: Well that very much took the bully pulpit. That was, again, that was re-election year doing the open space bond issue and the biggest concern that we had is it was such a big number. It started with a commission that I had appointed to look at what the needs of New Jersey were as the most densely populated state in the nation and frankly the state that the experts say could be the first in the nation to run out of developable land. We like to be first in a lot of things. That’s not where I wanted to be first and I took the recommendations of that particular commission and they had recommended all sorts of different ways of paying for it. Tax increases, a variety of different ways, and that took bringing the legislature together, bringing the departments and agencies, the department of environmental protection in to look at and to scrub this. What was the right number, how did you put it together? How did you put it together? It couldn’t just be open space. It had to reflect farmland needs. It had to reflect parks, particularly parks in our inner cities. I wanted to have a sensible growth so that there was contiguous lands, particularly in farmland and parkland, so people could walk from one to the other or farmers could actually farm. Farming next door, not have to drive tractors down roads for long periods of time, which the public in general doesn’t like when they get behind them, they get upset about it, and to make it a cohesive, coherent type of policy. And then because of the size of it we decided that it was a million acres and that that would require a billion dollars in bonding. Going to the public with that took all the bully pulpit and frankly that’s what my re-elect revolved around. I spend time talking about going around the state, doing events throughout the state on land that we had preserved and talking to the public about what this would mean, because the real fear we had was there were a number of ballot issues, local ballot issues, to preserve open space, where voters were being asked locally to tax themselves in order to preserve open space and our fear was that they would either vote for those and not for a billion dollars because that was so big, or they’d vote for the billion dollars and not for the local preservation. Happily, we were dead wrong and they overwhelmingly passed the big bond issue for the billion dollars and almost all save I think it was two of the local issues passed as well.
Governor as media magnet
Whitman: Because the Governor is the only statewide elected officeholder, the Governor in the state of New Jersey commands the attention of the press. Whatever the Governor does gets attention. You don’t have to fight a rival press conference by your Attorney General or your State Treasurer or someone who is trying to say, “Nah, the numbers aren’t right,” or “They’re doing the wrong thing.” You are it, and because of the enormous power you have in appointments up and down the line it again draws more attention to the Governor. So you’re the only game in town really and the press pays a lot of attention to that which enables you to get that bully pulpit and enables you to really communicate with the public. Now you are being filtered through the press and obviously it’s a little bit of a different game today because you have so much internet ability which are people critiquing from the outside and that’s probably not a bad thing, but you still are — when you speak you’re — really the state of New Jersey is speaking and that does command people’s attention.
Limits of power and control / pension reform
Whitman: I mean, I got it through but at a high price and that was when we did the pension reform. What we were doing is taking advantage of the marketplace and our pensions and we renegotiated. It was like renegotiating a mortgage on a house and we had gotten lower rates and saved tax payers about 62 billion over the time, over the length of the bonds on that and that’s an obligation that we had to pay our pensions and they were fully funded but we didn’t explain it well at all and we put it in the budget too fast, too early. My Secretary of the Treasury is the one who took the message out and he didn’t have necessarily the best relationship with the legislature so backs got up early and I was constantly fighting from a position of being down and it never worked. The bond issue itself worked. We actually got three rating increases from Wall Street after we did it because it was the right thing fiscally to have done but from a public relations point of view I have to say it’s pretty much an unmitigated disaster. It enabled people to go back and take an easy road out and say, “Well all the problems we have today are due to that particular event,” which it wasn’t at all and if you look at what happened subsequently after I left Governorship that’s when some major changes were made to assumptions and things that have caused problems. But at the time it was the right thing to have done to have captured the market at that time to have taken advantage of it but we explained it so badly and sprung it on people in a way that was unnecessary. We didn’t need it for that budget, to balance the budget, which is what people said we were doing. We didn’t need it to do that. It did make it easier, I’m not saying it didn’t make it easier but we didn’t have to do it. In hindsight obviously we would’ve been far better having rolled it out more slowly, spent more time with the legislature and not have to have used the bully pulpit and basically the weight of the Governor to get it done, which is what we had to do, throw my weight around to get it done. We got it done but unhappily with many in the legislature. They really weren’t happy with it and we got — actually Leonard Lance is the once who sued and said we should’ve gone to the public. He lost the suit. Legally we were perfectly fine and again as I say fiscally it was fine but when you get that kind of animosity from within your own party even you know that you’ve screwed up, frankly.
NJ Governor as notable nationally
Whitman: I can’t think of sort of a one-liner of other Governors saying how lucky — they were just blown away by it and they would say, “Boy, I wish I had that ability. I would give anything to have a cabinet that was all mine so that I could really frame the issues I wanted to tackle and really frame the way to do it,” and there are others who just love the idea of being able to have all those kinds of appointments because they had all sorts of people who wanted to have jobs and they didn’t have any place for them and they were nine times out of ten good people but they just didn’t have any place for them and so there’s always somebody who’s unhappy and you go through rotations and things. And the conditional veto was one that, as I say, at the time, there was a period of time at least while I was Governor, New Jersey was the only Governor that had that ability, and almost every Governor said, “I really — that’s incredible.” The ability to take a bill and as long as you stay within the parameters of the intent of the bill to rewrite it in a way that, as I said, an example that I used on the partial birth abortion and make it constitutional was a power that other Governors just would have given their right arm for.
NJ-specific issues / home rule / property tax
Whitman: Oh it’s an enormous challenge the amount of Home Rule we have here in the state of New Jersey. We have so many layers of government that it’s really extraordinary and we don’t need them all, and they cost money and when you’re responsible for the budget and people look to you for taxes they often forget things like property tax are — the state doesn’t collect it. The state doesn’t spend it. That happens at the local level yet the Governor is the one who gets blamed when property taxes go up. The best you can do to alleviate the problem is to take on some of the burdens of the localities so that they can not have to spend that money. He [ph?] can either return it to their taxpayers or use it for something that they were going to have to raise taxes in order to do, particularly with education. But that’s hard for people to understand. Again, you have such a powerful Governor but one of the biggest thorns in the side of the state, the property tax is not under the control of the Governor and one of the things that we tried to do was to encourage sharing of services and yet people, you’d go to people and you’d say, “You know, you live right next to the — your town and the next town, you share a main street and your police departments are virtually across the street from one another or the fire departments. You don’t each have to have your own fire chief and your own fully-staffed police department. You could share.” No way. We got I think it was five, and it surprised me because it was in Hudson County, five of the fire departments or three of the fire departments agreed to merge and those are unionized so I was really surprised that those were the ones who took advantage of the offerings that we had to make that easier. We were only able to use the carrot, not the stick at all. Now the stick is being used a little bit more and that’s a good thing because people need to understand, if you’re going to complain about it look around and see what you can do to help reduce it, which would be things like sharing services and now I see both sides of the aisle are starting to embrace that concept. And that’s a good one because when you have school districts that don’t have any students, when you have water districts and school boards and all the different layers of government, people have to understand it costs money to keep them going. Are they really truly necessary in every instance?
A diverse state
Whitman: You know the wonderful thing about New Jersey is it is so diverse. I liked to say to people, “We get everybody else’s problems. We usually get them earlier, a little more intensely, and if we can solve them almost anybody can.” Maybe not exactly the same way but it certainly gives them a model. I love that about the state. It is five climate zones. When you go around the country and talk to people about New Jersey, they have one image and it has to do with the northern end of the turnpike and a whole lot of oil holding and gas holding tanks and that’s it. And we’re a little schizophrenic. I mean, we don’t really want them to know we have some of the hardest parts of the Appalachian Trail, that we have 127 miles of beaches and that we have pine barrens and a southern part that looks like Iowa because we don’t want them moving here but on the other hand we’re very proud of that and we do want them to know about it, and the thing I love is I can’t think of a place that I have been in the world, and I mean in the world, where someone hasn’t come up to me at some point and said, “I’m from New Jersey. I was born, raised, went to school,” married somebody or had a job in New Jersey. Some relationship to the state of New Jersey and they want to tell you about it. So yeah, we have the poor cities. When I first became Governor Camden had the highest murder rate in the country. We got that down. I mean, there are things that we can do a whole lot better and things of which not to be proud but there’s so many things to be proud of in the state of New Jersey that I love that diversity. It makes us who we are. “We are many faces, one family” was the motto that I used and tried to encourage in people and saying we’re the ultimate of the stew, not the melting pot. We don’t all come out the same. We have a wonderful stew that everybody keeps their individual identity and yet together they make something truly unique.
Managing a divided state / Deinstitutionalization example
Whitman: Well one of the hardest things that I had to cope with and I’m sure it’s true for many Governors is the recognition that anything you do is going to disaffect somebody. There’s going to be somebody who will be hurt by it and somebody who is not going to do as well and you have to keep stepping back and saying, “What is in the best interest of the greatest number?” You cannot allow yourself to be driven by the last person you talk to who says, “If you do this, I’m going to lose my house.” You’d have to say, “What can I do to help that person from not losing their house but if what I’m going to do is keep hundreds or thousands of other people in their homes, then that’s what I have to do.” But there are always going to be people who are not going to agree with you and when you’re in a state where a hundred and fifty different languages are spoken in one city alone you’re going to get a lot of people with different ideas of what’s the right thing to do and the right way to do it. You get used to that. You have to. You have to step up and say, “Okay, this is the decision that has to be made.” When we were moving to deinstitutionalize some of the shelters for challenged kids, some of the institutional settings for challenged kids and putting them in to homelike settings, I had to meet with the … parents many times, the advocacy groups, who were scared to death that this was going to be terrible for the children and that the state would not live up to its obligations and that their children would never be able to survive and you could understand that very real fear but everything that the professionals were telling me about what would be best for these young people and my intuitive instincts as a mother and what constitutes a supportive caring environment led me to support the recommendation that came from our Department of Human Services and there probably are some young people who haven’t thrived under that but we were able to meet our obligations and the majority of them have and actually I’ve had the parents, many of the parents come up to me and say, “You were right. We didn’t think it would work out this well. We thought since our child,” boy, girl, whatever, “was into a routine and that gave them a comfort level that allowed them to function that by disturbing that routine you would set them back years. That hadn’t happened.” But it was tough. It was really tough because I understood their fears and you have to fear. Maybe we are wrong. Maybe these young people will get so upset by the disruption and clearly some of them would but the vast majority have done better and that’s what you have to sit back and say, but you’re never going to make everybody happy. You can’t.
Governor vs. Legislature / Tax cut announcement
Whitman: Oh well the legislature will tell you the Governor is a pain in the neck because they control everything and they don’t ever talk to them. It amuses me to see different Governors running into the same thing. It’s a natural tension. It is always going to be there and again, because the Governor is the main game in town that’s where the press tends to go first an the legislatures particularly if it is split between Republicans and Democrats, or if one house is in the hands of one and one in the other or it’s very close, you’re going to get dueling press conferences almost all the time which dissipates the message a little bit. It’s harder for them to get that message together and be cohesive. So the Governor does have an enormous advantage there and the legislature obviously at times resents that. That’s understandable. You try to reach out to them. I mean, I used to offer coffee and donuts one day a week in the morning to get people together. They didn’t come <laughing> but we offered it to them and you sit down and work through the big issues with them. You try to do that but as you may remember when I came into office I actually blindsided the legislature which was good for what I was trying to accomplish, probably not good in the long-term relationships with the legislature although I got 99 percent of what I wanted done done in the seven years but that was on the tax cuts. I had run on a platform of reducing income taxes 30 percent in three years and once I got elected everybody went around to me and said, “What are you really going to do?” I said, “Lower taxes.” So then they went to the legislature and they said, “What’s going to happen?” and I could hear the story, “Well you know, campaign and we’ve got pressures and we’re going to have to take a second look.” So I figured the only way I could really get it started was to announce and present them with a bill at my inaugural and I didn’t tell them about it a head of time and it surprised them. I’m not sure they were terribly happy but Bill Clinton had just passed a retroactive tax increase and so I was able to say, “If he can do a retroactive tax increase I am doing a retroactive tax cut and I’m sending to the legislature this afternoon to start the process of reaching our 30 percent cut.” So there was nothing they could do. I mean, I said this in a speech to a roomful of these — armory full of people who obviously they wanted to hear that because they wanted to see there were going to be tax cuts, that’s what I’d run on, and they thought this was a great move and the legislature, they don’t like being blindsided. It’s something you shouldn’t do too often. I did it in that instance and mostly because I had heard the rumblings that they were starting, even Republicans, to start to drag their feet on cutting the taxes and I thought that was enormously important to getting the state back on track and bringing jobs back into the state.
Governor as party leader
Whitman: The Governor is the party leader, is their party leader. It was not the role that I cherished I have to say. I enjoyed the policy part of being Governor. I’d love to campaign for people, that was fine but some of the political stuff was not my first order of business. I preferred to concentrate on the legislative side of it which was not always — I mean in the policy side of it, which is not always in the legislature’s best interest as they perceived it, the partial birth abortion bill being a part of that, the assembly was all up for reelection, they had a very conservative base in the primary that was telling them they were going to get knocked out if they didn’t pass this, and I just couldn’t sign it because it was unconstitutional. So they weren’t happy with that but you are the leader of the party, you do put a face on the party and you do do your fundraisers. You have to go do the fundraisers to help the party coffers stay strong and obviously you do a lot of fundraising for candidates and speaking at party events and that’s fine. That’s the way it works for everybody.
Governor and the Judiciary
Whitman: It’s a very independent judiciary. The Governor obviously has the opportunities to appoint people depending on length of terms and service and things and the New Jersey judiciary has always been held out as being one of the best in the nation and bipartisan, non-partisan and I always tried to keep that tradition of making sure there was a balance when there were party labels involved. It’s always interesting how you appoint people and you think you know where they’re going to be on various issues or how they’re going to approach them and all of a sudden they don’t. They put on those robes and pffwt it’s a whole different ballgame and then of course I had one very controversial appointment when I appointed Peter Verniero and that became enormously contentious for unfair reasons I felt for Peter and I felt very strongly that he was in fact going to be a very good justice and it turned out even those who opposed him most vociferously in the bar came out and said in fact he wrote some of the best opinions and was a very good justice but he could never stand for reappointment because he knew he would become an issue again because it had been such an enormous issue when he first was appointed and that took all my powers of Governor of persuasion to get him confirmed the first time around. It had to do with racial profiling, an issue that had been an issue for the state for decades and we finally took it on and he took it on and then they said, “Well you didn’t do it soon enough,” and you want to say, “Well what about the 20 years before that, gang?” In any event I knew him well enough to know that the kind of thinking and the way he approached issues was the way you’d want a justice to approach issues and, in fact, as I say at the end of the day, he turned out to have been a very good justice. But it was ugly. It was very, very ugly. Personally, for him particularly.
The problems of 1947 / centralized power and accountability
Whitman: I think back in 1947 when they rewrote the constitution, they were being very clear about wanting there to be a center of power, which would enable as I have mentioned before the public to know where to look for answers, where to look for decisions, who was going to hold the buffalo chip as they say. Where does the buck stop, and it clearly stops with the Governor of New Jersey and that’s a good thing. I believe that’s a very good thing. It puts a lot of pressure on the Governor because you can’t hide. There’s no place to hide. These are your appointees, these are your policies. Sure you have a legislature to deal with. Obviously you have a Supreme Court that affects things dramatically. But the fact that you have all these other powers means that you have an enormous amount of responsibility as well as power. With power goes responsibility and the public knows that about you so that you have to be constantly thinking about how you communicate the decisions you’re making, you have to think those decisions through very, very carefully and you have to be willing to get out on a limb and push for what you want, because it’s your policy. Nothing’s going to happen from a policy perspective in the various parts of the administration if you’re not guiding them. You’ve got to be willing to take on that responsibility and lead and understand that you’re going to get a lot of stuff thrown at you in that process but that’s what comes along with the territory and overall when I watch and look at other states talk to other Governors I think it’s very healthy. I think it was a very smart thing for them to have done and that we shouldn’t dilute it, frankly. That we should in fact keep and honor the constitutional changes that were made to make our Governor strong because it gives us a place to look and we have four years to fall now [ph?] if we don’t like it and four years we can change things. But we know what to change basically, we really do and the Governor, it gives them the opportunity to be very clear when they’re running for election and very clear when they step into office. Who they are, what they are, and if they don’t live up to the standards they’ve set then they’ll pay the price, and they should.
Tom Kean as model, study
Whitman: Well if I had a model or mentor in the Governorship it would’ve been Tom Kean. Tom gave me the opportunity to serve statewide even though it wasn’t a visible position, terribly visible to the public as President of the Board of Public Utilities but it did expose me because I was a member of the cabinet to more of the workings of the Governor’s Office and I thought he was an excellent Governor, particularly in the educational field where he made some very important changes. We made some changes too, not all of them as popular when we did away with the Board of Higher Education but it was watching how he worked and communicated. It was very impressive to see.
Whitman: His whole approach to trying to bring people together was one that I had grown up with with my family and I thought that he did a masterful job at that and he wrote the book about it and that was a model that I had seen in other places and he was embodying it at that time, which I thought was very important.
Kean and NJ image
Whitman: Well he was very well respected and that’s what gave him the ability when he went out to speak to elevate the position of the state of New Jersey. When you go out and certainly I did a lot of it as well and every Governor does, if you are perceived to be an honest Governor, if you’re perceived to be a strong Governor, if you’re perceived to be a balanced Governor, you get attention and Tom Kean I believe embodied the best of the qualities that people were looking for in a leader. So when he went out and spoke people listened and they said, “Hmm, that’s New Jersey.” Not all the mafia <laughing>. Not all the bad stuff. I hope they thought that way when I was out there, but Tom certainly embodied that.