MANCHESTER, NH – They belong to different parties, but New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and former New Hampshire Gov. Craig Bensonboth succeeded in business, enough to convince the right people that if they could make millions, they could reform state government.
Each came into office on a wave of good feeling forhis business acumen, and before too long each began to hear the criticism thathis business smarts couldn't compensate forlack of political skill. In Benson's case, that lack proved politically fatal.
The Republican loggedone two-year term before being defeated in 2004 by current Gov. John Lynch, and weathering the editorial blows on his way out that he didn't campaign hard enough and maybe didn't want it badly enough. Now in private life again in his adopted state, Benson,53, who grew up in Chatham Township, New Jersey,admits he was out of synch in the world of state politics, but doesn't have any regrets. He never wanted to make a career out of it anyway.
In fact, that's the problem, in his view. Too many people use politics as a meal ticket, and are fulll-time gamesmen.
"When you go in and you didn't work your way up the ladder, there are inevitably people – elected officials – who are unhappy because you jumped in line," Benson told PolitickerNJ.com. "When you have another job, when you've made your own way and you're financially independent, and you didn't grow up in politics, you don't understand the political mentality."
Bensonclarified thathe andCorzine made their money by different means. The New Jersey governor took the reins of a well-established company, while Benson was an entrepreneur who created his own company, Cabletron. He said because Corzine comes fromwhat he describes as a politically chargedenvironment at Goldman Sachs, perhapsCorzine is better suited than he was for the political rumble.
"When you get to start your own company, you can make your own politics," said Benson.
Still, despite his admittedly hard knock foray into public life, Benson countersthe prevailing interpretation of his executive style while he served as governor: that he was a CEOused to making the decisions and incapable of finessing the legislature.
"In business relationships, you've got to sell them, not tell them," said Benson. "Same with Goldman Sachs. Theymanaged my money, actually. They don't order people around. They do what any good company does. They fire people up, and create an atmosphere of participatory management. At the end of the day, somebody's got to make the decision, and that's the governor."
WhatBenson said heneverdeveloped wasthe political calculation that comes from street level operating, andsays when he served as governor, he would read the paper and walk around flabbergasted by the motivations attributed to his decision-making process.
"It's hard to even fathom how people could come up with some of the conspiracy theories, and think that I had all of these well-thought plans," he said.
He maintains that one of the problems with government is people see it as a career, and consequently government has become a focal point of everything in modern America life, in his view, as laws are heaped upon laws by legislators who never leave.
"What advise would I have for Gov. Corzine?" Benson asked. "He doesn't need my advice. He seems to be fairly popular. Ihaven't exactly followed New Jersey politics, and I don't subscribe to a lot of his views, but what I would say about Gov. Corzine is he made it on his own. He's coming in for public service. He's certainly not doing it for the money. He came in to make a difference. I did it for the same reason. New Hampshire made my business successful. I wanted to give something back. You just have to do whatever you think is best."