James Florio (born August 29, 1937, Brooklyn, New York), usually known as Jim Florio, was a Democratic politician who served as the 49th Governor of New Jersey from 1990 to 1994, the first Italian American to hold the position.
Florio attended Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey) and received a law degree from Rutgers School of Law (1967). He served as an officer in the United States Navy from 1955 to 1958, and afterwards was a reservist until 1975 eventually achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
After being admitted to the bar, Florio became the assistant city attorney for Camden City, a position he would hold until 1971. Florio would also be the borough solicitor for the New Jersey towns of Runnemede, Woodlynne, and Somerdale from 1969 until 1974.
Florio made his political career in opposition to the corrupt Democratic Party machine that prevailed in those days in Camden County, that was headed by Angelo Errichetti. His opposition to pervasive corruption around him has been suggested as the cause for Florio's comparatively (for a politician) go-it-alone attitude, which would later help to undermine his popularity as Governor. Alternatively, it has been suggested that being a 'loner' was already a part of his personality that enabled him to function in the presence of the machine without becoming a part of it.
In 1970, Florio was elected to the first of two terms he would serve in the New Jersey General Assembly, from 1970 to 1974. In 1974, Florio was elected to the United States House of Representatives, and served from January 3, 1975 until January 16, 1990. In Congress, he was best known as the author of the Superfund legislation to clean up the most polluted sites in the country. He was also co-sponsor of the Exon-Florio legislation, which created the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and effectively removed Congress from the approval process on foreign takeovers of US industrial concerns. This legislation was a precondition for the Dubai Ports controversy in 2006.
While in Congress, he would make three attempts to be elected Governor of New Jersey, in 1977, 1981 and 1989. He got as far as winning the Democratic nomination in 1981 and finally won both the nomination and the governorship in 1989. His loss in the 1981 general election was the closest in New Jersey history, and was not decided with certainty until several weeks after Election Day. Florio served a single four-year term as Governor from January 16, 1990, to January 18, 1994. He supported a substantial tax increase once he gained office, after the perception that he had ruled out tax increases during his campaign.
A short 6 months after he was sworn into office, Florio asked for and the legislature passed the biggest tax increase of any state in U.S. history. The $2.8 Billion tax hike led to a grassroots taxpayer revolt in 1990, spearheaded by a citizens group named "Hands Across New Jersey" founded by John Budzash, a Postal worker from Howell, New Jersey.
Budzash was a frequent guest on radio and television shows throughout New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania speaking out against the new taxes. Florio was a regular topic on active anti-tax broadcasting from talk radio stations New Jersey 101.5, Curtis Sliwa's AM Radio Talk Show and Bob Grant's AM Radio Talk show, both based in New York City. Sliwa, Grant and John & Ken from 101.5 along with Alan Keyes, who in later years was a Presidential Candidate in the Republican Primary, were guest speakers at two rallies held by Hands Across New Jersey protesting both George Bush and Jim Florio's record-breaking tax increases. Florios popularity could not withstand the constant negative publicity.
Directly as a result of the Tax Revolt, the Republican Party gained veto-proof majorities in both state legislative chambers in the 1991 midterm election, they did nothing to repeal the taxes as they had promised and Florio was subsequently defeated for re-election in 1993 by Republican Christine Todd Whitman in a narrow vote of 49
o 48ŕWhitman won by 26,093 votes out of 2,505,964 votes cast.
In 2000, he was defeated for the Democratic nomination for United States Senate by investment banker Jon Corzine, in the most expensive Senate primary in history.
Florio has an office at Rutgers University.