The Whitman Legacy
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
Governor Christie Whitman is about to be confirmed as the new head
of the Environmental Protection Agency. Whitman leaves behind a
mixed legacy of income tax cuts, a mountain of debt, a commitment
to diversity in which she called the state "one family",
and an abysmal failure dealing with the ongoing problem of racial
profiling on New Jersey's highways. Bottom line is that Christie
Whitman kind of stopped being all that important in Trenton about
two years ago. She barely squeaked by in a re-election bid against
then unknown Jim McGreevey. She should have blown him out. It should
have been no contest. But it is a funny thing about Whitman, she
was always more popular outside of New Jersey than she was here
I don't think Whitman was a bad governor, but I think she was an
awfully limited governor. Sometimes I think Whitman came into office
in 1994 to do two things-cut the income tax and show people that
she was more personable than her predecessor Jim Florio. After she
accomplished that in the first year, I'm not sure Whitman knew exactly
what to do. It was easy cutting the income tax by thirty-percent.
Whitman looked great in the photo-ops and talked articulately about
giving money back to the taxpayers. The problem with Christie Whitman
is that she didn't seem real interested in dealing with the more
difficult problems of governing.
Consider that under Whitman's watch the state debt rose to nearly
19 billion dollars. Whitman borrowed more money than any governor
in New Jersey's history. It was always funny to me that she called
herself a fiscal conservative while mortgaging the future of those
who would have to pay this debt off sooner or later, probably in
the form of increased taxes.
Consider some other things about the Whitman legacy. While she
talked a good game about diversity, and I have no reason to believe
that she is a racist, she demonstrated an incredible insensitivity
and incompetence on the issue of racial profiling. Like I said,
cutting taxes is easy. Doing something about the decades old problem
of the state police pulling over African American drivers and searching
their cars for drugs solely because of the color of their skin is
hard. Not only did Whitman not try to solve the problem, she didn't
even want to acknowledge that it existed. And God only knows what
she was thinking when she posed for that photo in Camden frisking
a 16-year-old black kid who had already been searched by the police
and had done absolutely nothing wrong. Talk about adding fuel to
While Whitman gets points for her commitment to preserve the state's
open space, she never really made a commitment to fight for the
State Plan, a largely ignored document which calls for more coordinated
development and growth. The Plan said that we should work to limit
suburban sprawl while investing more in our cities. Whitman never
really touched this issue because frankly it was too controversial.
Who's against preserving open space? The hard part is to go out
and sell citizens on the idea that we can cut pollution, reduce
traffic and re-build older urban areas by taking more public money
and putting it into our cities. The hard part is telling people
that building another office complex or mall on Route 1 may not
be the best idea.
And what about this whole DMV debacle? The easy part was firing
DMV director Dick Kamin. Whitman was always good at making someone
else the fall guy when things went wrong. It's what she did on the
racial profiling issue when she fired state police boss Carl Williams
for making racially asinine comments to the press. Carl Williams
wasn't the problem and bringing in a black police superintendent
isn't the sole solution.
Back to the DMV issue. There are lots of reasons why the auto emissions
program went awry and the lines to get your car inspected went on
for hours. The lines didn't go away because Dick Kamin was fired.
Governor Whitman never really seemed to take responsibility for
those lines and never seemed committed to doing what was necessary
to deal with it.
One more issue I want to touch on is property taxes, which as everybody
knows are ridiculously high in our state. Whitman never really wanted
to deal with this issue. Instead she played the blame game. She
blamed mayors, municipal councils, and school boards saying that
they were spending too much. Whitman never addressed the other complex
reasons that caused property taxed to soar. Some of that had to
do with the state. Some of it had to do with people's demands for
more services. Some of it had to do with everyone wanting their
own police and fire departments no matter how small the community
was. But all Whitman did was blame public officials. That habit
of pointing a finger at others instead of taking a closer look in
the mirror is not something this governor should be proud of.
President Harry Truman's favorite expression was "the buck
stops here". A more appropriate slogan for Christie Whitman
is "the buck stops with everyone else but me." Good luck
in Washington Christie.
Steve Adubato, Ph.D. is a commentator, lecturer and former state
legislator. Dr. Adubato is also an Emmy Award-winning television
anchor and syndicated columnist.
He can be reached by fax (973) 509-1659 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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