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Jon Shure on His Former Boss, Jim Florio

by Jon Shure, New Jersey Globe

This story is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. Link to story:

In 1990, it was up to Gov. Jim Florio to tell the people the state’s finances were a house of cards and that painful steps had to be taken.

What a four years that turned out to be.

New Jersey got a sneak preview of many things to come.

In Hands Across New Jersey, we saw the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.

The below-the-radar work of the NRA propped up that “grassroots movement” because Jim Florio had the guts to ban assault weapons before there was a national ban. Indeed, the national assault weapon ban would come and go, but New Jersey’s stands.

We experienced “fake news” when it was just called news.

And the rise of incendiary talk radio.

And, going back to his first campaign for governor in 1981—which I covered for The Record—Jim Florio was the target of race-based voter suppression efforts that are all too familiar today.

Some people today are too young to remember the Ballot Security Task Force—a Roger Stone production—with off-duty police officers wearing armbands and signs in polling places warning that fraudulent voting is a crime.

In what turned out to be the closest gubernatorial election in New Jersey history, the suppression only had to intimidate 1,797 voters among the more than 2 million who cast ballots.

I’m thinking it did.

And, of course, it was selective. As I heard candidate Florio eloquently tell a meeting of Black ministers in Elizabeth 8 years later:

“They did it in Newark, not Short Hills.

In Trenton, not Princeton.

They did it in Camden, not Cherry Hill.”

I got chills when I heard him say it then, and I just got chills repeating it now.

As Governor, Florio sweated the details and more than held his own with the policymakers.

I remember after a briefing on the proposed state budget—a deep, deep dive—a longtime Treasury staffer came up to me and said, “no governor ever came to these meetings before.”

Gov. Florio’s sometimes steely exterior belied the personality of someone who treated people with respect that don’t find in every politician.

And he didn’t stand on ceremony.

One time, my assistant, a holdover from the Kean administration, buzzed me and said, “There’s a ‘Jim’ on the line—would that be the governor?”

Or the time our home phone rang around 9 one night—my wife, Janice answered, and put her hand over the mouthpiece, saying, “It’s Jim and he sounds mad.”

Guardedly, I said, “hello,” only to hear, “I’m not mad.”

I wish I could hear that voice again.

And I am thankful that Jim Florio gave me the opportunity to work for a governor who had the courage and willingness to take on tough fights for the simple reason that that’s what he believed he was elected to do.

Jon Shure was communications director for Gov. Florio’s term in office, 1990-1994.