By Jason Gonzales
Nashville Tennessean
May 14, 2019

In her visit to The Hermitage on Wednesday, New Jersey’s former governor will speak on why when honoring our history we should look at the “good, the bad and the ugly.”

Christine Todd Whitman said her speech takes place in an appropriate place to talk about the historical context of The Hermitage and former President Andrew Jackson’s legacy. The goal, she said, is not to turn away from our history but also be careful how we judge the past.

“We have a legacy that is real, it is difficult, but to bury it is not the answer,” Whitman said.

Whitman’s speech is part of the 119th Hermitage Spring Outing, a closed fundraising event for the Andrew Jackson Foundation.

Whitman talked with The Tennessean on Friday ahead of the visit. It will be her first visit to Music City in almost 10 years.

In her interview, Whitman, who also served as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief under former President George W. Bush, answered questions on numerous topics, including how we view history, the Republican Party and the environment.

What message do you hope to get across during your speech at The Hermitage?
History must be preserved, Whitman said, but it also must be put in context. She said we must own up to our history even as we celebrate it.

“If we don’t remember the past, we are fated to relive it,” Whitman said.

The Hermitage is controversial because it was a slave plantation. And Jackson’s legacy can’t be discussed without mentioning the Trail of Tears — which forced many Native Americans off their homeland.

While it won’t likely be a part of her speech, Whitman also said controversial memorials and statues also have their place. But she was clear that like all history, it must be looked at holistically.

“We need to look at the whole picture and not just look at pieces we don’t like,” she said. “The removal of statues should be put in a place where the historical context makes sense.”

How have politics changed since you ran for governor?
Politics have gotten much more divisive over the past 25 years, said Whitman, who served as the Republican governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001.

“We knew it was trending that way,” she said. “There is no satisfaction of ‘I told you so.’ We are so polarized and getting back to the middle is much more difficult.”

Whitman said Americans need to better understand their responsibility to vote and stay informed. She said voter turnout has been low and uneven.

“With all the privileges, we have come responsibilities,” she said.

Do you think moderate Republicans still have a home in the party?
Whitman, a moderate Republican, said it is hard to stay with the party in its current state.

“It is hard,” Whitman said. “It is hard to find a home.”

Many staunch Republicans, she said, have left the party since the election of President Donald Trump.

“They have not become Democrats … they are stuck in the middle.”

In your view, what is the current state of the environment in the nation?
While Whitman said she has always maintained it is appropriate to revisit environmental regulations, she said the last several years haven’t been productive.

She said she especially worries about opening up federal land to private interests.

“I am very worried,” she said. “Some of the damage that is being done is hard to repair.”

She said she believes some of the changes made under former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will likely be rolled back. But she said she is worried about what EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will do.

“Some of the changes will put people’s lives at risk and our health,” she said.

Is there a place in the Republican Party for those that believe the nation and world must address climate change
Right now, she said, there is no leadership from the White House on climate change.

But she said many in the caucus wants to address climate change. The problem is that Trump is “tamping down any real science on it.” Cities have taken the lead of the issue, she said, which is a positive.

And the upcoming 2020 election will put environmental issues front and center. That is also a good thing, she said.

“There are some tough questions to be answered,” Whitman said.

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