By Andrew Segedin
The Montclair Times
May 24, 2013

Looking down at today’s political landscape, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman sees what many Americans see – a nation divided.

“We’re starting to see this split,” said Whitman in an interview with The Times. “Conservatives are ever more conservative and liberals are ever more liberal … Most policy is in the center.”

Whitman will be sharing the insights she gained during her seven-year tenure as governor and two-year stint in President George W. Bush’s cabinet during the MontclairRepublican Club’s dinner meeting on May 28. The club’s president, John Van Wagner, said that Whitman was selected as she was New Jersey’s last elected Republican governor prior to Gov. Chris Christie. Van Wagner hopes that the club will gain insight on what it’s like to be a Republican politician in a predominantly blue state.”We’re starting to see this split,” said Whitman in an interview with The Times. “Conservatives are ever more conservative and liberals are ever more liberal … Most policy is in the center.”

New Jersey’s first and only female governor told The Times that the future of the Republican Party and her take on the “dysfunctional” state of politics will also be among her speaking points during the engagement.

The former governor will also preach the importance of bipartisanship, which is to say she’ll be rather complimentary of Christie.

“I think he’s doing very well,” Whitman said of Christie. “He’s taking on the big issues and he’s doing it with Jersey style, which people love.”

Whitman acknowledged that Christie has received some flack from members of his party for warming to President Barack Obama, but said that it’s a governor’s responsibility to cooperate with all available agencies when citizens are in need. Having dealt with a few notable weather disasters during her term as governor, Whitman said that she is able to relate to what Christie has gone through in recent years.

“It’s awesome in the sense that you do have the responsibility, and the most important thing is not waiting for the natural disaster to occur and then understanding, when people have lost everything, it’s never fast enough,” said Whitman. “It’s really important to be there, to show them that you care. People are hurting. I think Chris has done a good job of this. The most important thing is not just showing, it’s caring.”

Describing much of the remainder of the Republican Party as deliberately homogenous and “overtaken by social issues,” Whitman said that the responsibility of creating change starts with the American people.

“We need to support people who are really willing to reach out, no labels,” Whitman told The Times, adding that less than a third of Americans vote during Congressional elections. “We have to look in the mirror. At the end of the day, we have to look in the mirror.”

Looking back and stepping forward

Whitman never sought to become a role model; it just turned out that way.

Driven by coming from a political family, Whitman said that she was surprised when, after being elected, so many parents of young girls would approach her and write to her regarding the significance of their daughters seeing a woman in high office.

Asked for her thoughts on the future of women in politics, Whitman said that she found it ironic that women make up more than half the population and yet the United States has not joined fellow powers such as Great Britain and India in having a female leader in recent decades.

“Women have different life experiences and different ways of approaching [issues],” said Whitman. “We need different faces and different points of view.”

Though she has embraced being a role model for aspiring female politicians, Whitman counts the implementation of drug and juvenile courts, the recognition of open space and returning New Jersey to its economic footing as her proudest moments as governor. Whitman was so engaged in the economy that, when approached for a position in Bush’s cabinet, she had hoped to be appointed as secretary of the Commerce Department, believing she could best serve the nation in that capacity. That position was already promised, however.

Whitman, instead, left her governorship to accept the position of administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The former governor described her time with the EPA as frustrating, saying that, as a regulatory agency, it was difficult to incorporate creative problem-solving.

During her term, Whitman says that she never leased her Washington, D.C., residence for more than a month at a time, never knowing how long she’d last. Eventually, she stepped down after just over two years. Whitman told The Times that her decision was personal in part, as she and her husband tired of a “commuter marriage.” She cited professional issues as well.

The definition of “routine maintenance repair and replacement” in The Clean Air Act proved to be the tipping point for Whitman, who wanted to see more stringent parameters than the administration. She resigned in June 2003.

“Since I wasn’t elected to anything and they were, they deserved an administrator who would sign in good faith, and I couldn’t do that,” Whitman told The Times.

Whitman has continued to stay within the political arena, most notably with her 2005 New York Times bestseller, “It’s My Party Too.” She also serves as a co-chair with Clean and Safe Energy, on the board of directors of the American Security Project and founded The Whitman Strategy Group, which specializes in environmental policy.

Continued involvement in policy, Whitman says, keeps her going day in and day out. That, and her six grandsons.

“All boys,” said Whitman. “We don’t do girls in the family anymore.”

Dinner with the Governor

1.The Montclair Republican ClubAnnual membership meeting

1.Tuesday, May 28

1.Guest speakerGov. Christine Todd Whitman

1.J&K Steakhouse 44 South Park St.

1.Tickets are $40