By Philip Sean Curran
Princeton Packet
May 2, 2013

Former Gov. Christie Whitman told Princeton area business leaders Thursday it is important that more Americans participate in government, even saying she had no objections to requiring people to vote or get fined.

Ms. Whitman, in remarks to the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Princeton Marriott, said “we’ve got to be concerned about the lack of participation.”

She said that does not mean everyone has to run for elected office or attend all of their local council meetings.

”But it does mean that you need to be informed. It does mean you need to be heard,” she said. “It does mean that you have to reach out to your elected officials.”

She made her remark about the voter requirement in response to a question from the audience.Ms. Whitman, invited to speak on the question of whether the time has come for a third party, instead used her remarks to bemoan the state of politics in the country. She said this week a Harvard poll of young Americans found they had no faith in government.

”We have got to start demanding, as the citizens of this country, that our elected officials start to act like leaders,” she said. “I will argue that I think far more of them will find that they get a huge amount of support for standing up for what they think is right than they do for just doing what’s political.”

She expressed concern about the influence small groups can have, such as with low turnout party primaries that produce candidates who are supported by the most partisan supporters, which makes it difficult for those politicians to come back to the political center.

She said “our democracy works when we have people who will talk to one another and solve problems and when we have functioning two parties that will work together to overcome obstacles.”

”It’s not a crime to reach consensus on issues,” she said. “Somehow, this idea of compromise has become a dirty word.”

Ms. Whitman felt it important to move beyond “this partisanship if we are going to protect what we value most in this country, and that is our way of life, that is our ability to solve problems, our ability to look at the whole and to work for the whole.”

Yet she said she did not think it was time for a third party. She said she would rather see a vibrant two-party system, “but that means they’ve got to work together.”

She said she supported in the past election cycle “Americans elect,” an effort to field a presidential candidate without having to go through the primary process who would have to pick someone from the opposite party as a running mate.

Ms. Whitman, 66, served as the first female governor of New Jersey between 1994 to 2001, the year she resigned to become the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the President George W. Bush administration. She was criticized for statements she made after the Sept.11, 2001, terror attacks that the air quality in the ground zero of lower Manhattan was safe.

She left in 2003 in what was seen as a dispute with the administration.

Out of politics, she has since started a consulting company, called Whitman Strategy Group, that works on environmental issues.

She received a warm reception from the lunch-time audience that included her husband, John. She sat at a table in the front along with Chamber President and CEO Peter Crowley.

During her political career, Ms. Whitman was a moderate Republican who favored abortion rights. More recently, she has supported gay marriage. But striking a conservative theme, she offered that there is a “limited role” for the federal government.

”It’s not to solve every one of our problems,” she said. “Some of that we have to do ourselves; some we do at the local level (and) the state level.”