Remarks As Prepared for Delivery:
“A Comprehensive Approach to Ethics Reform in Trenton”
Governor James J. Florio Policy Lecture –
Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University
February 19, 2020
Good evening, everyone.
Thank you, Professor Carl Van Horn, for that overly generous introduction. And, thank you, Dean Vonu Thakuriah, for welcoming us to the Bloustein School.
It is an honor to be back here at Bloustein, in particular, and at Rutgers University, in general.
I don’t think I can overstate my affinity for this university, and the excitement that I feel for Rutgers’ future, and with it, for our collective future.
Atop the list of reasons for this excitement is every Rutgers student here this evening.
It’s a Wednesday evening in the middle of February. The Scarlet Knights tip-off against Michigan in less than two hours … and, yet, here you are.
But, if you think I’m going to keep you here past game time, don’t worry. I’m going to the game, too!
However, the fact that you are here tonight, to continue, I hope, learning and partaking in a civil dialogue about the future of our state gives me tremendous faith about our future. Looking around, I have no fear knowing that your generation will someday be the ones leading. It gives me great optimism.
Another reason for my excitement in being here is the incoming president of Rutgers, Dr. Jonathan Holloway. I have had the chance to talk with him on multiple occasions. His energy is unmistakable and his vision for leading Rutgers is clear.
While I’m at it, let’s also thank Dr. Bob Barchi for his tremendous leadership over the past decade.
And, I gotta be honest, I am also excited for the return of Coach Greg Schiano, just as I know many, many Scarlet Knights are.
Rutgers joined the Big Ten because it knew it could compete with the absolute best, both in the classroom and on the field. Rutgers stands shoulder-to-shoulder with this nation’s best research universities, including the ones that it meets in athletic competition.
Suffice it to say, on multiple counts, Rutgers’ future is blindingly bright.
Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone can sit back and just expect good things to happen. Everyone still has jobs to do and expectations to meet.
And, that includes me, and that’s what brings me here.
I sought this office with a pledge that, if elected, I would base every decision on one consideration – doing what is right not for my next election, but for the next generation.
A big part of this pledge was changing the culture in Trenton, to make it more open and accessible, responsive, and, ultimately, more representative of our state and our great people – to make sure that government works for people, and not special interests.
That means we’ve had to take on some tough fights. But, thankfully, there are strong models for principled leadership in the Governor’s Office that I’ve been able to tap into.
The late Governor Brendan Byrne was an invaluable source of wisdom and wit. Former Governor Tom Kean has been a terrific friend. Same with Governor Dick Codey.
And, then, there’s Governor Jim Florio. State legislator, Congressman, Governor, elder statesman. Over his career in public life, Jim Florio has worn many hats. He’s taken on many tough fights – some he won and some he lost – but never wavered from doing what he believed was in the best interests of the people of New Jersey.
I think the principles that Governor Florio took to the office every day are best summed up by one of the last lines of his fourth, and final, State of the State Address, delivered the week before he left office.
He said, “Short-term expediency as a way of avoiding the long-term public interest is, in the ultimate reckoning, a sure-thing losing cause.”
Words to live by.
Words to govern by, too.
In May 1992, Governor Florio visited a political science class at what was at the time Montclair State College – today it’s a full-fledged university – to propose a comprehensive suite of ethics reforms aimed at cleaning up Trenton and, as he said to that class, “to restore reason to the system and faith in government."
So, I am proud, nearly 28 years later, to stand before another group of New Jersey scholars to put forward our administration’s comprehensive plan to modernize the ethics laws of our state, so that the people of New Jersey can regain faith about the way business is conducted in the State House, and so they can have unprecedented access to our political process.
I am sure there are those who will hear what I am proposing tonight and criticize these proposals because they may challenge, or even threaten, a status quo in which they are very comfortable. But, as Governor Florio reminds us, in the ultimate reckoning, theirs is a sure-thing losing cause.
I am joined tonight by a bipartisan group of state legislators, some long-time veterans, others only in office for a few years. One thing has brought us all together tonight.
We all agree that the time has come to take another whack at the long-standing so-called traditions of Trenton. The time is now to dig deeper, and work harder, to change the culture.
Some of the steps I will outline today can be achieved through executive action. But most of the steps will require legislation. And, I thank my partners in this effort – former Governor Codey, Republican Senator Chris Brown, and Republican Assemblyman Ryan Peters.
This is an example of the best of what Trenton can be and what we can do – people willing to take on a failed status quo – people working across party lines to bring change – people putting the public good ahead of personal gain – people committed to opening up the process.
But too often, we see a different Trenton – one where the culture can be resistant to change and looks out for insiders, rather than looking out for the people we are supposed to serve.
I am glad that we are finally recognizing that change must come and that it must start now. To paraphrase President Barack Obama, change doesn’t come from Trenton, change comes to Trenton.
What I am proposing,