Asbury Park Press
By former New Jersey governors
November 10, 2017
We invited the living former New Jersey governors to offer some advice to the next governor, Democrat Phil Murphy. Here are their individual suggestions:
Watch the bubble
Don’t let the situation get ahead of you.
Figure out what we need in the first year. Make sure you have a good state treasurer, the personality of the treasurer is important. Don’t spend any more money than you have to. But on the other hand, don’t be unrealistic.
If you are going to do a new project, make sure you’ve got it funded.
For the last few cycles, Ruthi (Gov. Byrne’s wife) and I have hosted a small lunch for the new governor and the former governors. We go around the table and ask them to give advice. The most common is, “Watch out for the bubble!”
Vacation, then govern
I have two basic recommendations: First take a vacation. Not a long one, but at least four or five days. You’re tired — you have to be, it’s been a long campaign, you need the rest. But there’s another reason.
For the last year, you’ve been doing politics; governing is very different even though political leaders don’t always understand this.
You need to get out of the political mode and into the governing one.
Second, think about the people you’re planning to put in key jobs. Your treasurer for example. Your economic people are going to be vital even though you won’t really have control of the budget until 2019. The decisions you make in the first few months will be important. Your attorney general may be your most visible cabinet member, one of the few people you can’t fire. Make a mistake on that appointment and you’re in real trouble.
A difficult problem for many new governors is that they want to reward many of the people who helped them get the job, and yet people who run campaigns don’t usually make good Cabinet members although there are rare exceptions. Judgment here is key.
And you need the best possible people to give you advice. You are facing New Jersey’s most intractable problems: poverty in our cities, the pension crisis, climate, our schools, etc.
There are some wonderful people out there who haven’t been involved in politics, but if asked might be willing to help the governor. Most important, you need people who will tell you the truth as they see it even if they know you will not be happy. Too many people tell a governor only what they believe the governor wants to hear. Look for intelligence, integrity and honesty.
Good luck – you’ll need it.
James J. Florio:
Be forthright, make the hard choices
The next governor of New Jersey will face problems almost beyond comprehension. Unfunded pension benefits, State Health Benefits Plan shortfalls, inadequate NJ Transit capital, school funding requirements and necessary infrastructure investments add up to hundreds of billions of dollars. Inadequate existing services preclude dramatic cost reductions.
Spending is not the problem; revenues are. The prevailing short-sighted philosophy in Washington compounds New Jersey’s problem.
The prime task of the new governor will be to speak to citizens as adults! Tap into their common sense. They know in their own lives that nothing is for nothing; you get what you pay for. Accept the fact that all of the other alternatives are painful. Leadership requires creativity in helping people to come to judgment on the least painful — understanding that doing nothing is unacceptable. People will be very angry at being forced to make such choices, but upon reflection after some time, most people will appreciate your appeal to their maturity.
No one said the job would be easy, but the alternative is state deterioration, which you would not want to leave as your legacy.
Intellectual courage will be your most important characteristic. Challenging the status quo is not for the faint-hearted and the status quo has gotten us where we are. Managing change is essential.
Christine Todd Whitman
Rethink priorities, work with all
Congratulations, you have been elected to one of the most powerful governorships in the nation. Stewarding New Jersey’s substantial natural, human and financial resources is both a unique privilege and a significant responsibility. I am sure I speak for all former New Jersey governors in saying it was one of the great honors of my life, as it no doubt will be in yours. While I was not shy about supporting your opponent, you are now my governor and I wish you and our beloved state only success.
My first piece of advice to you is to take a hard look at some of the promises you made on the campaign trail. There is no shame in digging deeper into the policy and budget details and realizing you can’t make good on every plan you proposed. The citizens will respect you for assimilating new information and making the most informed choice available. Utilize the legislative staff and other civil servants as you seek to govern with wisdom.
Additionally, I would recommend that you get to know the directors of the state’s emergency response services. It is imperative that you know what they need in order to do their jobs effectively before a crisis arises.
Finally, we have seen the detriment of single-party governance in Washington on both sides of the aisle and you should heed that lesson. I recommend that you work with the Republicans in the Legislature. You are now governor of all New Jerseyans so make sure you represent both parties. All the best.
Christine Todd Whitman
James E. McGreevey
Commit to second-chance policies
Governor-elect Phil Murphy has a commitment to “second chance” policies and to providing court-involved individuals with the opportunity to be trained and productively employed.
It is estimated that upwards of one out of four New Jerseyans have some aspect of a criminal record. Even an arrest for a misdemeanor or felony can impact the ability to secure employment and housing. In these next four years, New Jersey ought to better streamline and integrate addiction, employment and training, housing, health care and legal services. Re-entry from corrections through parole to the community must be based upon evidence-based “best practices,” as has been done in Michigan.
New Jersey needs to follow the examples of Kentucky, Iowa and Pennsylvania to provide for comprehensive expungement and a “clean slate” law as proffered by state Sen. Sandra Cunningham. And we must remove the punitive restrictions on occupational licensing that effectively prohibit court-involved persons from pursuing gainful employment.
We need to continue to fund re-entry services at a cost of $2,200 per person opposed to $55,000 per incarcerated person.
Additionally, an investment in adult education for vocational education would provide our clients with industry-recognized credentials, necessary to secure employment. We need to provide Medicaid navigators to coordinate client delivery health care, whether treating mental health, diabetes, hepatitis or HIV, as well as providing medication-assisted treatment to treat drug addiction.
Lastly, we must ensure linkage between our state’s major research hospitals and addiction centers and to set forth “best practices” for treatment protocols in the battle against the scourge of opioid/heroin/fentanyl addiction.
Richard J. Codey
Don’t ignore family or residents
Governor-elect Murphy, you now have the opportunity to restore grace and class to the office of governor — which I know you will do.
Understand that your policies will never make everyone happy and that is OK. However, it is how you conduct yourself that can leave a positive lasting impression on all of the residents of the state whether they support those policies or not. Your honesty and candor will go a long way.
Always remember to continue to carve out the necessary time to make it to your children’s events and have time with your wife away from the chaos of the governor’s office. It will keep you balanced and be a refreshing reprieve from the daily pressures of the job.
Additionally, at the end of the day, the residents of the state are living their own lives. They are in a rush and often times do not have a chance to look up during the day-to-day grind. Make a point on your own or in between events to stop into township coffee shops and diners for a quick drink or meal because the “accidental” run-ins you will have there will end up cementing you with the community and give you real-time feedback that no poll will provide.
I wish you luck and look forward to working with you in moving our state forward.
P.S. I know you like Starbucks, but remember Dunkin’ Donuts is our base.
Common good, ‘big tent’ policies
Governor-elect Phil Murphy has often remarked in his campaign that he will have New Jerseyans’ “back.” I know him to be a man of his word.
My advice to the governor-elect is that he also “turn his back” on today’s politics of divisiveness and confrontation with its zero-sum outcomes. No person or party has a monopoly on good ideas for New Jersey or our nation. Fact-based and philosophical debates are constructive and necessary. Gridlock is not. Advancing the common good begins by embracing “big-tent” politics, openness to principled compromise and a forceful rebuke to “those who make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
When pursuing the common good, the governor-elect should prioritize our common ground. We all want quality, outcome-based education for all children.
There is agreement on repairing and sustaining quality transportation infrastructure; protecting our environment and confronting climate change; and ensuring the safety of our citizens while providing equal application of the law within the criminal justice system. And, yes, seek to minimize taxes without undermining the rightful expectation of support for our most vulnerable or meaningful investment in our economic future.
Too often, party politics, special interests (whether regional or economic) or single-issue advocates resist compromise and blunt progress toward meeting common objectives.
This resistance sustains gridlock and inflames citizens’ frustration with government. By offering firm, but accommodating leadership as an alternative to intransigence, Governor-elect Murphy can provide New Jersey with the optimistic, inclusive leadership it deserves to get things done.