Republican Christine Todd Whitman, the 50th governor of New Jersey—and the first woman when she was elected in 1993—looked across a filled Mayser Gym Oct. 4 before she answered a question about the number of women from both parties seeking elected office this year.
“I’m very encouraged by it,” she said, and noted the number of Democratic women this year exceeds Republican women. “It’s going to make a difference. The world would not be perfect if it were run by women, but I doubt we would screw it up a whole lot more.”
The last remark brought laughter and applause at Franklin & Marshall’s Common Hour, the weekly community discussion conducted every Thursday classes are in session. On stage, she sat, relaxed, with F&M senior Nick Stolte, a government major. He interviewed Whitman about her experience in government and where she believes contemporary politics has gone awry.
A trailblazer for women in politics, Whitman, a lifelong moderate who believes in compromise and working across the political aisle, left the governorship in 2001, more than halfway through her second term, to become administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. She left the post in 2003, soured by the brutal GOP politics.
“There wasn’t much appetite on the Hill [for environmental regulation]. The Republicans controlled the Senate,” Whitman said. “[Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee Sen. James] Inhofe was just never in favor of talking about the environment much.”
In 2005, Whitman wrote, “It’s My Party, Too: Taking Back the Republican Party … And Bringing the Country Together Again,” in which she criticized Bush administration policies and the Bush campaign electoral strategies. She praised Bush as a person and as an executive, but said he was caught up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in trying to ensure the county was safe. She found herself having to negotiate with Vice President Dick Cheney.
“The president and I were on the same page, but the vice president and I were not so much on the same page,” she said. “Early on [Cheney] was given the lead on energy and the environment … The vice president would listen, but he was never a big favorite of environmental regulations and then to have the Republicans who were controlling on the Hill not to be in favor of any regulations – it was hard.”
Whitman said, “Regulations should be reviewed regularly, I think, because they do become redundant. … Review them, but review them in a sensible way and not just do away with regulations because we decided we don’t like them.”
Today a political activist pushing for a politics of mutual respect and compromise, Whitman penned an op-ed this summer calling for President Donald Trump to resign because of what she described as a “disgraceful performance in Helsinki” that demonstrated his unfitness for office.
Asked why she opposed Trump during the 2016 election, Whitman cited her dealings with Trump as governor of New Jersey, which regulated his Atlantic City casinos, and her assessment of him.
“I saw a bit of the way he operated and was not overwhelmed,” Whitman said. “And I just didn’t think he had the background or the breadth of experience or, frankly, I didn’t see the core principles of values that we want to see in a president.”