Bob Sommer is CEO, Awsom Associates, LLC, an adjunct lecturer at the Bloustein School, and member of the Bloustein School Advisory Board.
By Bob Sommer nj.com 9/28/22
“You need to intellectualize my humor,” former Gov. Jim Florio once instructed me after I had botched writing a speech for him. Anyone who had the privilege to work for him knows exactly what Jim meant. He was serious and analytical and didn’t believe in wasting time on things he found trivial, like cracking a joke in the middle of his speech.
In other words, if you were, like me, a policy person on the House of Representatives committee staff he chaired, he was the perfect boss. Unless you had to write speeches for him.
I’m quite lucky when it comes to knowing Jim Florio. My relationship with him was prior to his election to governor. Elected eight times to the House of Representatives, his time as a congressman allowed him more time to focus on his staff and students and the specific policy issues that motivated him.
I got to know him first as my professor. Three hours every Monday morning at 8 for a semester. No breaks – he plowed straight through in his lectures and questions of us. More than any other class in graduate school my fellow students and I couldn’t just show up. We had to be prepared to answer his questions of us in an intelligent way or he would get frustrated. Don’t miss an issue of our Opinion newsletter! Get it delivered each Wednesday right into your inbox by adding your email below and hitting “subscribe.”
His expectations of us students and even more so of his staff helped prepare me for the rest of my professional life. Attention to detail. Know the policy objective but make sure you talk with everyone on all sides of the issue. He was fond of saying even people we disagree with will — on occasion — still have good ideas that should be considered, if they are being reasonable. He was a partisan but insisted most Republicans on the committee weren’t enemies even if we couldn’t agree with them. He was firm but never screamed (something I still haven’t mastered as he once pointed out to me a few years ago).
But he was far more than a role model for students and staff. Too often overlooked because of his term as governor is his congressional career. If there is ever a lawmakers’ hall of fame, Jim would be a first ballot inductee.
Best known for authoring the federal Superfund law, his legacy extends far beyond that landmark legislation. He wrote the laws protecting Americans from asbestos and hazardous chemicals. He had jurisdiction of Amtrak and the freight rail lines making sure the passenger carrier was properly funded and that railcars carrying dangerous products were safe. He also oversaw insurance legislation, passed bills meant to keep the United States competitive with other nations and protected seniors from unscrupulous sales scams.
What’s more, his intense investigation of Anne Gorsuch, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan administration, led to her resignation. (Sadly, she has gotten some level of revenge since her son has done so much damage as a Supreme Court justice.)
New Jersey is fortunate to have had Jim Florio fighting for us. His legacy is far more than just as a one-term governor. Jim’s impact as a member of Congress still positively impacts New Jersey residents to this very day. And, oh, by the way, he could be quite funny and actually ended up letting me write some humor into his speeches.
Jim Florio was a good person who lived a well-led, full life of dignity and distinction.