James J. Florio: Courage in Politics doesn’t Always Win

Jim Florio earned the Kennedy family’s “Profile in Courage” award in May of 1993.  About five or so months later, he was voted out of office, losing to Christie Whitman by about 26,000 votes.

Courage in politics doesn’t always win.

Florio, who died Sunday night at 85, earned the award primarily for supporting a measure to ban semi-automatic weapons, or so-called assault rifles.  Curiously, that ban is probably more popular now thanit was almost 30 years ago.

Still, his real problem was not guns, but taxes.

Not only did increasing taxes kick him out of office, albeit narrowly, it changed the media landscape of New Jersey politics.

First, the tax increase.

Some may recall that Florio followed Thomas H. Kean Sr. who left office in January, 1990, as one of the most popular governors ever.

Kean just barely beat Florio in 1981, but in 1985, he won in a landslide.

Upon assuming office, Florio claimed state finances were totally out of whack.

He did make some cuts, but much of what the public saw was a tax increase of $2.8 billion. By any analysis, a new governor sharply increasing taxes is not a very prudent idea.

Not only that, he didn’t exactly sell it very well.

The tax package was approved on a night in late June shortly before the 1990-91 budget was required to be adopted. The hour was late, but Team Florio did little to fully explain what was happening.

What was worse was that the sales tax not only increased, it was expanded to toilet paper. Talk about a public relations disaster.

Now we come to the media.

As many people know, there has never been all that much “New Jersey electronic media.”  North Jersey, by and large, gets its radio and TV from New York City and South Jersey gets it from Philadelphia.

But then there was New Jersey-based 101.5, a relatively new station, with a talk-radio format.

And talk radio was made for taxing toilet paper.

As Eric Scott, the station’s senior political director and anchor, wrote Monday on the station’s website, 101.5 up to then dealt with a lot of fluff  – like asking people their favorite pizza spot or Boardwalk location.

But then a caller complained about the tax increases and a group, “Hands Across New Jersey” was formed. The station soon became a sympathetic sounding board for those wanting to complain about taxes in general and Florio in particular. The station “took off” as Florio went in the other direction.

Soon, signs and bumper stickers reading “Florio Free in ’93” began appearing around the state, especially in Republican areas.

With that backdrop, it’s kind of unbelievable that Florio came so close to winning reelection. He did, you see, eventually explain why he did what he did.

Some may recall that Florio actually tried a comeback of sorts. In 2000, he ran for the U.S Senate.

In fact, he was initially ahead in the polls. But then Jon Corzine entered the race and with literally millions to spend on his own campaign, Florio’s candidacy faded quickly. That was a shame; Floriowas a very good congressman before becoming governor.

He was instrumental in passing the federal Superfund Law, which quite obviously, is of paramount importance to New Jersey.

He probably would have been a pretty good senator.

As for 101.5, it remains a powerful, mostly conservative, voice on the state’s political scene.

Consider that another achievement for Jim Florio.

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5 responses to “James J. Florio: Courage in Politics doesn’t Always Win”

  1. He was a man who made the needs of the state foremost in his mind. Given the level of political nonsense we have seen recently, I doubt that anyone with the vision and integrity of Governor Florio will likely be elected in the future.

  2. Jim Florio was an extraordinary leader. He moved forward bravely and did what needed to be done to for the betterment of New Jersey. He never let personal ego stand in his way. He will be missed.

  3. Nice fluff piece on Florio. The guy was a loser, not only in the ring (got his face broken), but in politics as well. I like how you say he almost won his 2nd term election for Gov. No, he lost because he was an idiot; e.g. toilet tax. He got his arse wiped with that tax. Florio’s Democrat-Socialist tax and spend policies rankled the voters, both on the left and right, and was a loser for him.

    Florio also went after the 2nd Amendment with his unconstitutional gun control laws. That didn’t sit well with over 2 MILLION voters who own firearms. Add this to his loss in the 2nd term.

    And, then there was Florio called out “deadbeat dads”. He was going to go after them with a “meat ax” with draconian punitive laws. I guess going after 50% of the voting population involved in divorces didn’t go over too well either, especially those trying to survive after being saddled with unrealistic excessive support & alimony orders while trying to cope with Florio’s high tax schemes.

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