Recollections of Governor Hughes: Lewis Thurston III

Transcript excerpts from an interview with Lewis Thurston III (Executive Director, NJ Senate Republicans; Executive Director, NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission; later chief of staff to Governor Kean; Vice President, NJ Sports & Exposition Authority) conducted for the Eagleton Center on the American Governor. The full interview is available in the Video Library.


Lewis Thurston III: . . . Well, the first governor I had direct involvement with was Governor Richard Hughes, who was a charming man, who was very resilient. He came back from the defeats that he had and had a very successful career for eight years as governor. He was personally charming and got along well with many of the legislators but he had to deal with a Republican senate for most of the time that he was governor. And so there was a lot of interplay that had to go back and forth between the Democratic governor and the Republican legislature. He was succeeded by Governor William Cahill, who was a different kind of personality, a hard-charging lawyer, a somewhat of a no-nonsense kind of person, but who liked the administrative side of things and probably spent more time in the governor’s office than any of his successors. Most of them had been out and about around the state doing various things, and so it was a very different style there. But personally, Governor Hughes and Governor Cahill got along very well and became good friends after a while.

Q: In terms of how Governor Hughes and Governor Cahill dealt with the legislature, was it direct personal involvement where they would lobby the legislative leadership or individual legislators? Did they rely on staff? Just how was their style similar or different?

Lewis Thurston III: I think there was a fair amount of direct involvement between them on important matters and the legislative leaders. There were fewer legislative leaders in those days. There was much smaller staff in both the legislature and the governor’s office, and as a result, I think there was more direct contact between the governor and the legislative leaders, the elected legislative leaders.

Q: Did you get a feel for whether the legislative leadership, at least on the Republican side, preferred to deal with Governor Hughes in terms of the gregarious personality he had, compared to subsequent governors who may have used staff intermediaries more?

Lewis Thurston III: Well, I think that the legislators enjoyed being able to deal directly with Governor Hughes. Governor Cahill had a different kind of personality as I’ve indicated. But he still managed to get along well, although he relied a lot on the legislative leaders that he had in both the senate and the assembly at that time, who got along very well with him. And so he relied very heavily on people like Senate President Ray Bateman and Assembly Speaker Tom Kean to carry his legislative program.

Q: In the Hughes and Cahill administrations, during the legislative period, you mentioned a couple of the significant leaders. Who were the other personalities, either in leadership or out, who had significant influence, particularly on policy in those days?

Lewis Thurston III: Well, one of the most important differences in that respect was that the secretary of state was the most powerful staff political person in those days. The incoming governor, whoever it was, usually appointed his chief political advisor as secretary of state. In the case of Governor Hughes, that was a man named Bob Burkhardt. In the case of Governor Cahill, it was a person called Paul Sherwin. And they were close advisors, politically and personally, to the governors and they really were the predecessors of what today would be the chief of staff or chief counsel to a governor.

Q: I guess one of the changes over time has been the emergence of the staff as a more direct conduit from the governor, where it used to be significant cabinet people like the secretary of state.

Lewis Thurston III: I think that’s true, and over the last 30 or 40 years, the governor’s staff has grown very significantly, as the whole scope of the state government and all of what it deals with has grown substantially. And likewise, the legislative staff has grown substantially, too. So there’s less direct involvement on a week-to-week, month-to-month kind of basis than there used to be.