NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: My next guest is criticizing Governor McGreevey (search) for waiting until November to leave office. Joining me now, the former governor of New Jersey, and a two-term governor at that, the former EPA (search) boss as well, Christie Todd Whitman.
Governor, thank you for joining us.
CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN, FMR. NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: My pleasure.
CAVUTO: What do you make, Governor, of the McGreevey situation? Why do you think he should leave now?
WHITMAN: Well, once a governor has announced that you are going to be leaving, then you immediately become lame duck. You cannot be as effective in office as you need to be. And clearly, whatever is going to distract him enough that he has to leave in November is distracting him right now. And this state, more than at any other time, needs the focus of a chief executive.
You have got to be totally focused on the issues facing the state, particularly when you have an orange alert out there. We don’t have three months transitions at election cycle. It’s two months. You don’t even have three months during the election cycle.
Let the people determine now. And clearly, if the governor knows he is going to be distracted in November, it’s got to tell me he is distracted now by something.
CAVUTO: The fact that this former political operative and big campaign donor, Charles Kushner, is apparently going to agree to any one of a number of federal charges, that there could be conspiracy, could be engaging in interstate prostitution, we simply don’t know, how does that muddy the waters?
WHITMAN: Well, the issues that have been swirling around this governor — his appointments since the very beginning have been enormously troubling. And, frankly, right now, this isn’t about him being gay. That has nothing to do with it. It doesn’t even have anything to do with being accused of an extramarital affair. We know there are plenty of politicians who have been accused of that and have stayed in office.
Where people really and where I fault the governor deeply is for two things. One, for taking that personal relationship and jeopardizing the people of the state by trying to put the person into a position that is, in the instance, homeland security for which he was clearly not qualified — doing it on the taxpayers’ dollar. That was inexcusable.
And then to say that I know I’m going be distracted and be unable to carry out my duties as governor on November 17, but I’m telling you this today in August, but somehow I can stay in that period, that is — also just doesn’t make any sense. For good of the people here, for the good of the state of New Jersey, he’s already said he’s going to be out. He should get out sooner rather than later and allow that special election to occur.
CAVUTO: Many say that the Democrats would tap Senator Corzine to sort of rescue the party, maybe salvage what is left of the party’s credentials in the state. What do you think of that?
WHITMAN: Well, I think Senator Corzine has to make up his mind. Clearly, whether he’s intended it or not, he’s the subject and the focus of an awful lot of discussion right now. So he needs to step up and either say, yes, I will, or no, I won’t do this. Because once he does that, I think things will clarify pretty quickly.
There seems to be a war going on in the Democratic Party as to whether they want the Senate president to be the acting governor for a year or whether they want somebody else. They are battling among themselves. I think a lot of that would clear up and maybe they’d do the right thing for the state if he were to make a declaration, a declarative statement that, yes, he’s in or, no, he’s out for governor of the state of New Jersey.
CAVUTO: But Republicans have to do much the same thing, do they not? There’s similar disarray in the Republican Party as — I don’t want to put it this crassly — how to take advantage of this and maybe field a single candidate. But you have at least a half a dozen folks who are interested. What do you make of that?
WHITMAN: Oh, yes. Well, right now, there is nothing to be contending for, at least in the short term, because the governor said he is staying in. So there is no election. Once we know when the governor’s getting out, then that will clarify pretty quickly.
As you know, what happens is that the state committee chooses the candidate. And there are a number of candidates who have stepped forward and have already indicated that they were looking at 2005, and they have said that they would be willing to be considered for 2004, even though that one year will constitute a full term for them.
CAVUTO: What about you, Governor? Can you run again? You can’t serve two concurrent terms, right? But could you conceivably run?
WHITMAN: Right. Constitutionally I could. Constitutionally I could.
CAVUTO: Are you interested? Are you interested?
WHITMAN: Well, you know I have been governor of this state. It’s a great state, and I was very honored to have been its governor. But I believe that in the best interest of the state, whoever runs, if there is a special election, whoever runs in that election should agree to run for reelection in 2005 and, therefore, serve a full five years. And I don’t see myself doing another five years as governor.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you this. I mean, you ran against McGreevey when you were running for reelection. Were there any hints at the time that some of his friendships that he had developed and some say even date back many years as a mayor of Woodbridge, New Jersey, had compromised his politics? Any signs of that when you were running against him?
WHITMAN: Oh, there were all kinds of rumors, all sorts of rumors swirling around all the time. But we weren’t involved in that. We weren’t interested in it, we didn’t use that kind of thing.
In ‘97, as you may remember, we had made a pledge. We developed it in the state of New Jersey, because I wanted to change what had happened in ‘96. And we had one of the cleanest campaigns that had ever been run.
And Governor McGreevey then, Mayor McGreevey, agreed to the conditions of it. We got it developed and went forward with it. And so, from the perspective of my campaign, there were an awful lot of rumors going around, people talking about all sorts of things. And we just didn’t bother to follow up with any of that.
CAVUTO: If you’ll indulge one last political question, Governor. If indeed Senator Corzine opts to run for the governor’s spot, that leaves a Senate seat open, conceivably to be named by then the new governor. But it also opens up a new race for the Senate. Would you be interested in that?
WHITMAN: No, I’m not looking to run for the Senate. I really enjoyed my time as a chief executive here in New Jersey. I enjoyed my time at the Environmental Protection Agency. And I am very much enjoying my time being home now.
CAVUTO: All right. So you think the state now is in play for the president, this normally Democratic state — even though it elected you twice — lately has skewed very Democrat, that the president has a shot in New Jersey?
WHITMAN: I think he does, but I’ve always thought he did because of some of the things he’s represented, such as tax cuts and national security. Those are things that resonate with New Jersey voters. We have seen how they work the tax cuts, and we certainly have an incredible sensitivity to what happened on 9/11, given the number of our residents who were involved in that personally.
CAVUTO: All right. Governor Whitman, thank you very much. A real pleasure having you on.
WHITMAN: My pleasure. Good to talk to you.
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