Governor Whitman Talks Need For Women In Politics

It’s good news for Governor Christie in Iowa. The other candidates are taking aim at him, Jeb Bush in a campaign ad, Donald Trump in a verbal fusillade that included lane closures and credit downgrades. Trump even downgraded Christie, saying he’s acting like “a little boy”. Christie’s withholding throwing counter-punches, saying to Trump only, “Happy new year, and I’ll see you in New Hampshire,” He told a breakfast crowd at Elly’s Tea and Coffee in Muscatine, Iowa that, “America can trust me because New Jersey doesn’t like me,” holding up his record-low job approval rating here as proof that he can make tough decisions.

The original Governor Christie conquered tough decisions, too. It makes her a “Jersey Girl” for our on-going series on the powerful women who call New Jersey home. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams spoke with former Governor Christie Todd Whitman about the importance of women in politics.

Williams: You have quite a legacy. You were the first female governor of the state of New Jersey. What do you make of the fact that you were the only female governor of New Jersey?

Whitman: I only hope it wasn’t because of my record. No it’s too bad. I keep saying to people look, the world wouldn’t be perfect if it were run by women, but I’m not sure we can’t do a whole lot worse than guys have done to date. Women do bring a different set of life experiences, a different way of priority setting, a different way of discussing issues and coming to conclusions. There is no one group that has all the answers. All white men, god bless them, but they don’t have all the answers. We need people at the decision making table that have these different experiences.

Williams: Is their leadership style different?

Whitman: It certainly has been from what I have seen. Now, of corse Millicent Fenwick, a Republican New Jersey woman, would tell you once women would be in power long enough that they would start acting just like the men. I don’t think so. The reason I say that is I don’t care how far we get, women will always be considered the primary care giver. Whether it’s for parents, children or significant others, the first person that people tend to go to when there is a problem is the woman. We have leaven to prioritize things differently than the men. We understand that very few things are black or white, there is a lot of grey issues. We are more willing. I have found that we are more willing to compromise, more willing to move the ball forward. Maybe not getting exactly what we wanted at the times we wanted it, but as long as we are making progress, that’s important. We are willing to go with that than lose the whole thing, more so than some of our male compatriots.

Williams: Groups of women, even at the PTA level, talk to each other to solve problems.

Whitman: Right. Most of the women I have found to get into political office get there because there is an issue and a problem they want to solve and they see this as a way to solving a problem. It’s not about a title, not about perceived power, or what it’s going to mean or how you are going to look about getting something done. It can be about getting a crossing guard for the school, or recycling in your town or some of the bigger issues we face as a state and as a nation. They are really getting into it to solve a problem. I think it has become so sort of commonplace for men to be in these positions of power that they look at it as a position of power, rather than trying to solve an individual problem.

Williams: Is it tougher for women to get the financing they need to run?

Whitman: It traditionally has been. We don’t have the same history mostly because we didn’t have the same discretionary income as our male compatriots for a long time. There is still a gap in pay between what women get and what men get. It’s not anything like what it used to be.

Williams: But, even with organizations like Emily’s List, which raises money for female campaigns, is tougher for them to get money?

Whitman: Yes, it is, because we are not used to writing the big checks. We’ve got to understand that where $100 or $500 used to be good, you need $1,000 now to start to make a difference.

Williams: Are we also not as good as making the big ask?

Whitman: No, I think we are very reluctant to make the big ask. Yes, I agree with you that we are very reluctant to make the big ask, but again, we are just not as used to it and it is not something that comes as easily and readily to us.

Williams: What was your greatest professional struggle?

Whitman: Probably getting use to the fact that you can’t make everyone happy, and that any decision you make as a governor, any new program you introduce, there are going to be some people that are not going to be helped by it, and might even be hurt. You have to do what is in the best interest for the greatest number. You can not be swayed at the last minute by an individual or two that will come in and say, well this is going to just devastate me. What you have to do is figure out how to avoid that. What can I do for that person, but not change the idea that you have got to do what is in the best interest for the greatest number of people.

Williams: Is there something that is keeping women from running in the first place?

Whitman: I think that there are a host of things. One there are not as many. If you look at the statistics, we are much harder on women candidates than we are on men. We do not accept the same level of life experience as being as meaningful as we do for men. I think it is because there aren’t as many of us in these positions of decision making and power. It’s very personal for us when a women messes up.

Williams: In terms of campaigning we are in a media talk-fest that really subjects candidates to a different level of scrutiny. Fair or unfair?

Whitman: We are losing men candidates too because of the nastiness of the campaigns, because of the way they are going. There are a lot of good people that are just saying, ‘you know what, I am going to try to change things some other way.’ It’s one of the things that worries me a little bit about the future because the latest polling that was done on the millennials, and I have been talking on a number of college campuses and I find this to be true, they are very focused on making a difference. They really want to change things. They want to do good. They aren’t nearly as focused on making big bucks. Quality of life is very important to them, but they don’t want anything to do with politics. You want to say if you are going to make these changes, and you want them to be lasting that you are going to have to be involved in the political system at some point.

Williams: But we want government off our backs.

Whitman: Well, I do, and I agree. There are ways…

Williams: I’m being facetious.

Whitman: No, I understand, but we do. I would say government is overly involved. There are plenty of places where it can get out, but we need government. Government is the way we are actually going to get some of these bigger issues done. They need to participate. It doesn’t have to be federal government, it can be your local government. That’s where a lot of the basic decisions are being made that affect you most directly in your everyday life. There is lots of potential here, but it is discouraging to see them and still you find the average voting amongst the 18-25 year old group voting is 17 percent.

Williams: Any last thing you would like to say to the Jersey girls who are thinking, and who have stopped saying, “I can do that!”?

Whitman: They should never say that, I mean especially if you are a Jersey girl. We are tough, and you have to be tough in this state anyway. It’s a great state with a huge amount of diversity and we really need them. What I say to people is, look, if you have two candidates, one a man and one a woman, with whom you are equally comfortable with as far as their capabilities and where they are on issues that it’s okay to pick the woman because she is a woman. We need that diversity of life experience, of problem solving. We need that at the table. Our problems today are too complex, too deep, for anyone group to have all the answers. We need women there.

Jersey Girls is an ongoing initiative that features some of the powerful women who call New Jersey home.