One of the pioneers of local political discussion, Kent Manahan has been a familiar face to New Jersey public television viewers for decades. The former NJN news anchor (1981–2008) now appears on NJ PBS, continuing her popular Governors’ Perspectives with Kent Manahan series, which has featured engaging discussions with past New Jersey governors and an assessment of the Garden State through their eyes in various formats over the course of 20 years. These conversations, most recently seen as segments of the series On The Record, will now periodically air as primetime NJ PBS Specials. The interviews are also being archived by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University for future generations of scholars, professors, students and interested citizens.
We asked Kent to share some insight into her work, and the unique political scene in New Jersey, prior to the 2021 premiere of Governors’ Perspectives with Kent Manahan in April, when she and former Governors Tom Kean and Jon Corzine discussed the Garden State’s fiscal future. The next new episode, in which former Governors Kean and Christie Whitman discuss the future of the GOP, aired Wednesday, June 30 at 8 p.m. on NJ PBS. (Watch online now or check for encores in the schedule.)
You’ve been doing Governors’ Perspectives segments on New Jersey public television for years. What inspired them?
I wanted to help people better understand how government works through the experienced lens of its former governors. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to get insight from the late Brendan Byrne, Tom Kean, Jim Florio, Christie Whitman, and Jon Corzine. Theirs is a truly unique perspective, and it’s fun to hear some of the behind-the-scenes stories of how things really get done at the State Capitol. For instance, in a recent interview, Governor Tom Kean spoke of being able to work with legislators from the other side of the aside, as well as from his own Republican Party. The governor said inviting legislators into his office to sit on the other side of the governors’ desk, listening and showing respect for their positions, in the end often went a long way toward compromise.
What topics have you covered? What topics are still on your “to-do” list?
We’ve discussed everything from rebuilding after Super Storm Sandy and the excitement of New Jersey hosting the Super Bowl to the state budget, gun control issues and the challenges of crossing the aisle to create policy. Looking ahead, I plan to discuss the upcoming gubernatorial election later this year (only two states in the country, New Jersey and Virginia, elect governors in 2021, so there will be a lot of attention on those races) and the future of the Republican Party, both nationally and here in the Garden State.
In your opinion, has the role of governor in New Jersey changed over the years?
The New Jersey governor is the most powerful in the country. Those powers are laid out in the 1947 State Constitution giving the executive branch the ability to make hundreds of appointments, granting extraordinary veto powers to the office of governor and making the governor the only state official elected on a statewide basis. (Most states elect the attorney general, secretary of state, judges and prosecutors, New Jersey does not, these are appointments made by the Governors.)
It’s fascinating to hear these highly respected former governors discuss their role as political heads of state. Their roles as governor may have stayed the same, but the issues each administration faces are often different.
What has been your most memorable interview to date?
Certainly the one marking Governor Byrne’s 90th birthday. Known for his quick one-liners, the governor’s best line was, “I’ve been around long enough to have voted for Caesar.” He always delivered right on cue.
What do you want people to take away from the Governors’ Perspectives?
In recent years, I’ve found that even though we are a divided nation on many issues, people still want to understand how their government operates. Governors’ Perspectives gives viewers that opportunity, not from political pundits but through the lens of former governors, who’ve had to run the operation of government, recognizing problems and implementing solutions. I hope it provides an insider look at the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and how affairs of state are carried out for the good of the people. Ideally, the series helps foster a better-informed citizenry.