Christine Todd Whitman, the first female governor of New Jersey and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, tells DW why she believes Roy Moore’s accusers and why Scott Pruitt is damaging the EPA.
DW: Numerous women from different backgrounds have come forward recently with allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men across US society from the entertainment industry to the media to politics and to other sectors as well. Were you surprised by what we have learned so far and what's your take on it?
Christine Todd Whitman: More discouraged and disgusted than surprised unfortunately. There has been a lot of that going on and among those who most fervently say they respect family and family values. It is discouraging to see this kind of thing, but unfortunately it happens worldwide. It is not just in the United States that you see this kind of prejudice against women, but it is certainly not something that we can claim we are pure on.
As the first female governor of New Jersey and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President George W. Bush, you were one of the top female politicians not only in the Republican Party, but in politics generally. In your political rise and career, have you experienced anything similar to what some of those women who have come forward are describing?
Fortunately, I haven't. I just heard from some people that worked for and with me that some of the legislators here in the state didn't do anything terribly bad, but acted inappropriately – pats on the bottom, hand on the knee and that sort of thing – but nothing that rose to the level of what some of these allegations are, of a real sexual attack.
While you didn't experience sexual attacks, did you experience discrimination because you are a woman in your political career in the Republican Party, and if so, do you think this problem transcends political parties?
Yes and yes. I experienced it in a sense that a lot of times what women say is ignored until a man further down the table says exactly the same thing – and then it is suddenly the best idea they've heard. Or the attitude that some of the legislators had about the women that I appointed to office, or some of the press about whether I could really be the one who was thinking of tax cuts and understood it all, because I was a woman and so it must be my husband who was giving me all the good ideas.
So that was absolutely there, but again, you also see this in other countries. Although in this country we have never been able to elevate a woman to the highest position. That's certainly a knock against us, so maybe it goes a little deeper here than in some other countries.
In the political realm, the allegations of sexual misconduct against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are currently a key issue. What's your perspective: should Moore run or resign?
He never should have run in the first place. I think he is a racist and a bigot. And I think he is someone who, as a judge, swore to uphold the law and then refused to uphold the law in a couple of cases and was dismissed from the bench. He just doesn't have the credentials to be a United States senator.
So these allegations just add fuel to the fire. I believe the women. For him to say it's all a conspiracy – it would have to be a pretty vast conspiracy when there are five women who haven't known each other coming forward with very similar types of stories. He is also not fully denying anything, he is kind of parsing his responses. So I think he is very guilty of what he is accused of and I also think he never should have been considered as a candidate.
Do you expect more of these allegations of sexual misconduct to come out, also in the political realm, and what can be done about it to prevent this in the future?
One of the good things that has come out of this election, which is really ironic, is that Trump has really awakened women to the fact that they need to vote, they need to be heard and they need to stand up. And they are doing that.
I thought that, even though I am a strong Republican, the fact that 10 Republican men were replaced by 10 Democrat women in Virginia was not a bad sign. The more women you have in those positions, the less likely you are to tolerate the kind of behavior we are talking about and the more it will be exposed. It will become something that will fix itself over time because people will come forward and say, this is happening to me and it is not acceptable.
At the Bonn climate summit, which is ongoing in Germany right now, the official US delegation, which largely promotes coal and is opposed to further meaningful measures to curb global warming, is being upstaged by a large, unofficial US coalition that includes California governor Jerry Brownand other local leaders who are ready to act against climate change. Do you support their effort to essentially counteract the US stance at the climate summit?
California Governor Jerry Brown says his state will continue to support the goals of the Paris climate agreement
That's the good news for the United States and for the rest of the world. While the federal government at this point is not going to take action and is behaving in what I consider to be a very backward manner, the states and the cities and businesses are going ahead. They are reducing their carbon footprints, and businesses find it is good for them. International companies function in a global world where these kinds of concerns are real, and they get it. They have to abide by other regulatory systems that are stricter than ours. So the horse has left the barn. It is just this administration that seems to be bound and determined to ignore what science is telling them and put us all in jeopardy.
As someone who led the EPA and later resigned in protest, what is your view of your successor, Scott Pruitt, who has been now in office for nine months?
He is doing enormous damage to the agency. There is a lack of trust. He is undermining science, which has long-term implications that are very damaging. And he has rolled back hundreds of regulations that are critical to protecting human health and the environment.
I believe this administration is out of step with what the public at large wants. Yes, they want an efficient system, but they don't want to sacrifice their health in order to ensure that they are getting the kind of business growth that they want. Because we have shown that you can reduce pollutants and still have a thriving economy – that is really the only way forward.
Christine Todd Whitman led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President George W. Bush from 2001 until her resignation in 2003 over demands by Vice President Dick Cheney to loosen air pollution rules. Before that, Whitman, a Republican, served as the first female governor of New Jersey from 1994 until 2001.