Former N.J. governor and congressman Jim Florio dies at 85

Former NJ Gov. Florio at the state house in 2018. Planet Princeton file photo.

Former Gov. Jim Florio, a Democrat who served as New Jersey’s 49th governor, died Sunday night. He was 85.

An amateur boxer and U.S. Navy officer, Florio served eight terms in Congress and authored the nation’s Superfund site clean-up law before becoming governor. He represented South Jersey’s 1st congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1974 until his election as governor.

He served as governor from 1990 to 1994, but was ousted because he increased taxes by $2.8 billion. During his term as governor, he instituted the nation’s toughest ban on assault weapons.

“Governor Florio was a fighter who never backed down. He was a leader who cared more about the future of New Jersey than his own political fortunes. And he was also a friend whose kind counsel was invaluable to me and countless others across our state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement on Monday.

“Our communities are cleaner today because of the environmental efforts he championed in Congress. And our streets are safer today because of his dogged effort to enact and defend our state’s assault-weapons ban, which remains the law to this day,” Murphy said. “More than anything, Governor Florio showed that legacies are built by doing the right things. Tammy and I send our heartfelt thoughts to Lucinda, Jim’s children, and all who loved him. Our state has lost a good man, and later this morning I will sign an executive order directing our flags to fly at half-staff in his honor.” 

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said Florio advanced laws that promoted environmental cleanup and revitalized communities.

“He rose to the challenges of his times by authoring the federal Superfund law and leading the way in the creation of the Pinelands National Reserve,” LaTourette said. “As governor, he continued to rise to the many environmental challenges affecting the Garden State, pushing groundbreaking laws and initiatives to improve the quality of New Jersey’s air and water and to protect our natural resources.”

Florio graduated magna cum laude with a degree in social studies from Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) in Ewing, and earned his law degree at Rutgers University-Camden. He stayed active in college affairs for over five decades and remained involved in politics long after he left the governor’s office. He was a senior policy fellow of public policy at the Bloustein School at Rutgers University and was the co-founder of the National Center for Neighborhood and Brownfields Redevelopment.

“Governor Florio was ahead of his time with his commitment to social justice, equity, and protecting the environment, among other issues,” TCNJ President Kathryn Foster said in a written statement. “His vision, tenacity, and tireless work for the citizens of our state and country during his three decades in public office should serve as an inspiration for college students for generations to come.”