Christie Todd Whitman In Washington Winterland honors NJ governor.

Aquarian Weekly 1/24/01 REALITY CHECK


At the behest of my furiously potent, if not rough-and-ready, managing editor, CAPTAIN UHL, I aim to crank out a few hundred words on the momentous confirmation of New Jersey governor, Christie Todd Whitman as the next Environmental Protection Agency administrator. After all, any act of professional charity is too paltry for the man responsible for deflecting any potential law suits levied on this publication as a result of this column, and as a fitting literary tribute to the captain’s undying service in pushing up deadlines and penning the foreword to my second book–not to mention some erroneous rumors I perpetuated regarding his love for terrorism and high stakes gambling–I am game.

But all joking aside, as I stated to Mr. Uhl in a rather lengthy e-mail, there is trouble for me whenever Tsar Whitman is the assignment.

Due to an unfortunate freelance gig landing in the New Jersey Monthly on the crack Whitman team some years back I was squeezed out, denied access, and held responsible for depicting Whitman staffers as “vapid hyenas stoked on low-grade bennies” and describing the governor’s vanquished tax cut proposal as “an economic fantasy worthy of Asimov.” It was honest reporting, very nasty stuff, for which I’ve apologized more than once. But it was all for naught, and there is no way I can thoroughly dissect this appointment at the level I am accustomed, leaving me a limited peripheral overview. But I like Whitman, just not as much as CAPTAIN UHL, and duty calls so…

The EPA appointment is, at its most basic roots, somewhere between a party burial and laughable miscasting. Christie Todd Whitman is pro-choice in a pro-life party with a pro-life president now on the payroll of the religious right. There is little question that her pro-choice stance had already taken her from darling of the GOP to political pariah within 10 months of barely upsetting Jim Florio for governor of New Jersey. So badly was her insider reputation that someone who could very well have once been Bob Dole’s vice presidential running mate was left to fend off Jim McGreevey in a tax war for re-election and was frozen out in the party’s national convention in 1996.

Political corpses are hardly a safe bet for resurrection, especially on a national level, and by the time I finished a column entitled, “Partisan Suicide” (Aquarian Issue 11/18/97) Whitman’s political funeral had already commenced. And make no mistake, the EPA is where the politically dead go when their party is trying to simultaneously build its female base and hide the baby-killers. But addressing the overwhelming numbers of women voters who are pro-choice and attempting to breed harmony after a paper-thin victory decided by the Supreme Court makes for strange political decisions.

Which brings us to another level of this appointment’s roots: the mere fact that anyone responsible for New Jersey could possibly be in charge of an environmental anything. This makes sense only when confronted with George Bush’s environmental record in Texas, which is, at best, criminal. In 1995, Whitman’s nearly $80 million slashing of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection’s budget was good for trimming governmental fat, but so severe Senator’s were holding press bids to slam her.

“Because we don’t have dead dolphins washing up on shore, the environment is obviously not the same issue it was,” said David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, in 1996.

Pollution fines decreased every year during Whitman’s one-plus terms while the northern part of the New Jersey Turnpike still twists under a pall of chemical reek. And although these items don’t necessarily label Whitman as a concubine to industry and Satan’s land rapist, it doesn’t leave her resume with a mother-nature glow either.

Whitman, like most Republicans, doesn’t care much for agencies and government regulators, but finds herself ironically cornered into one for ostensibly a promotion, but in reality, a political prison to which there will be no easy exit.

As for her truncated legacy as governor of the Garden State, there can only be praise for keeping the Devils from moving to Nashville at the expense of taxpayers and a doubled parking rate for every event held at the Meadowlands. New Jersey is still high on the car insurance gallows, mostly jacked by the worst drivers in the 48 contiguous states, fraudulent claims from gun runners and bookies slipping over the George Washington Bridge clamoring for no sales tax, and a shoreline ripe with bloated expenses.

But Whitman was funny when pressed, and she is a woman, for which there has to be some measure of victory. Howard Stern seems to like her, and she was quite adept at smiling on the promotional ads for wildlife. But now the poor thing is headed for a black hole with no bottom and very little leverage, but it’s good work if you can get it.

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