Speaking as a guest of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman said voters must empower politicians to cooperate in a bipartisan way.
Sean Ramsden

Christine Todd Whitman remains the only woman ever to serve as governor of New Jersey.

As the only woman ever to serve as the state’s top executive, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman has always carried a unique perspective on matters of government. Speaking to a standing-room only audience insider the Mercer Room on October 3 as a guest of Rider’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, Whitman said partisan politics is harming both major parties and poisoning the electoral process.

“The Republicans are becoming a party of litmus tests – both parties are, really,” said Whitman, a longtime moderate Republican, of this strict adherence to dogma that eschews compromise. “Politicians fear being ostracized by their party for reaching across the aisle, and decisions are analyzed through a partisan prism, not the policy prism. That’s extremely dangerous.”

Whitman was elected governor after narrowly defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. James J. Florio in 1993. After two terms in Trenton, she was appointed by newly elected President George W. Bush to serve as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, a post she maintained for two years.

Speaking just hours before the first presidential debate, Whitman said she is disturbed by the seeming disconnect between the American citizenry and elected officials. Voters, she said, hold the power to effect change, but it is a power that must be harnessed properly.

“You can never discount your ability to influence what is going on, but you have to let the decision-makers hear it,” she said. “It won’t come from yelling at your TV or debating with your family.”

In addition, Whitman believes that politicians must feel empowered by voters to support bipartisanship.

“I see the worst response from too many people who say, ‘a pox on both your houses, I’m not voting for either party,’ ” she explained. “The founding fathers worked out their differences, but no one compromises today. We need to support, at every level, those who are willing to work with the other party, and congratulate them.”

The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University is dedicated to public service and scholarly analysis of government, public policy, campaigns and elections in New Jersey. Generous support for The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Institute comes from the Hennessy Fund.