Many in the political world were watching Gov. Chris Christie today as he announced that there will be a special election this October to choose a replacement for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Former Gov. James Florio was watching and called Christie’s decision “commendable,” though he said the election could have been in November to save money.
Florio praised Christie’s decision because the governor could have appointed a replacement for Lautenberg who could serve until the 2014 election. “I think he pointed out correctly that it would be inappropriate to have an appointed person for a year and a half or so. So I think that’s a good idea. He’ll probably take a little bit of flack for having an October election rather than a November, but it’s within his discretion to do it,” Florio said.
If it were up to him, Florio said he probably would have avoided the second election to save money. He said while there would be a lot of primary contenders on the Democratic side, “I suspect whoever the governor nominates for the Republican side will probably have no primary problem and just sort of fall in line.”
Florio knew Lautenberg well, having worked with him during his political career. According to Florio, Lautenberg had a tangible effect on people across the country.
“The senator really is one of those individuals who has a legacy that you can really identify with him. There are literally millions of people whose lives have been saved or extended because of his efforts, particularly in tobacco but also alcohol,” Florio said. “So there’s a direct connection between his courage in taking on those issues before it was popular and outcomes that have been beneficial to people.”
Florio described Lautenberg as aggressive, “in a very good sense of the word, carrying things through.” He also said Lautenberg took risks, including going up against Millicent Fenwick, who was very popular at the time.
Lautenberg grew up poor in Paterson but became wealthy later in life. According to Florio, he didn’t forget his humble beginnings. “He didn’t give off airs. He was what he was. He came from a blue collar background and notwithstanding the money, he really retained those characteristics that we really come to expect from people with that kind of a background,” Florio said.
When asked what the loss of Lautenberg means to New Jersey politically, Florio said, “Obviously a loss to the nation in some respects. He’s a very progressive person. Someone who you knew where he was coming down. To a degree it’s up in the air now. We don’t know who is going to take his place. It could change dramatically the fortunes of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.”
Florio said Lautenberg was one person others wanted to have on their side. He said he and Lautenberg worked together on environmental and transportation issues.
“He took a lot of credit legitimately for saving Amtrak in the ’80s during the Reagan administration. There was a wholesale effort to try to sell it off and get rid of it. He went into the trenches, we worked collaboratively in doing that,” Florio said. “So there are a lot of things that you can claim as his legacy which are legitimate.”
Florio said there may not be another politician like Lautenberg. “It may very well be that we’re beyond candidates with his earthy characteristics. I mean, nowadays you have to be cute, you have to be somebody that’s very media savvy,” Florio said. “Frank was not media savvy but he got it done as a result of merit, he got results. That may be something that’s dying out.”