When Thomas H. Kean, Sr. first entered the Governor’s office in 1982, he found getting his agenda items passed to be difficult.
But unlike Gov. Corzine, Kean, a Republican, came into office with a Democratic majority in both the Senate and the Assembly. It wasn’t until his second term that the Republicans gained a majority in the Assembly, while the Senate remained Democratic.
The ice broke, Kean said, with the passing of the Transportation Trust Fund, after he forged a coalition with labor unions to push it through the legislature.
“The first year I think the Democrats opposed me on almost everything,” said Kean. “It was tough. They tested me out for a year before they decided they wanted to work with me,” said Kean.
Corzine faces the opposite situation. Two years into his first term, he’s got a Senate and Assembly both controlled by Democrats. But the progress on the reforms he laid out in his speech – especially on ethics – has been excruciatingly slow. In this, Kean sees a pattern.
“It’s difficult for a Governor when he has too much of a majority,” said Kean, who said he was actually fortunate to have to work with Democrats during his two terms. “Christie (Whitman) had too many Republicans for a while and she had problems with that. Florio had too many Democrats when he passed the income tax. He didn’t need any Republicans, he didn’t get any, therefore it was a partisan tax and it was deadly.”
On this point, Kean strikes a similar note to Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, who recently said that Corzine would have an easier time enacting the sweeping agenda he laid out in his inaugural address with a Republican legislature. But Kean also sounds a similar theme to Corzine when talking about the amount of time it takes to enact serious reforms – that they’re not going to be passed immediately, and that you have to fight for them every single day.
“It’s too early, I think, to say Corzine hasn’t gotten what he’s after. He’s got to keep after it,” said Kean.
Kean said he’d like to see more progress out of the Corzine administration, like health care reform and more educational initiatives. And although he won’t criticize Corzine for having a tough time so far, he warned that the governor will need to crack the whip soon.
“He’s going to run out of time if he doesn’t do it by the next State of the State. If you start approaching your own reelection, it’s more difficult,” said Kean.
That is, if Corzine does seek reelection.