Former state Sen. William E. Schluter, 90, a Republican lawmaker for parts of five decades, died on Aug. 6.
Schluter, who lived in Pennington, served in the state Assembly beginning in the late 1960s and then laterin the state Senate, until 2002, representing Mercer, Hunterdon and Warren counties. During his time in office, he sought to clean up government in the state.
Among his legislative accomplishments was sponsoring a bill in the 1970s to create the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
Speaking in 2013 at the 40th anniversary of the commission, Schluter recalled the “tortuous path” the bill took to become law. He said he did not think he could get the measure passed nowadays “because, today, legislative leadership is so powerful that they have the veto power … of any legislation.”
He shared how back in the early 1970s, lawmakers could form “alliances” with their colleagues “and try and get something through in a traditional way.”
Schluter was an independent candidate for governor in 2001, running against his party’s nominee, Bret Schundler, but he received minimal support in the general election. More recently, he wrote a book, “Soft Corruption: How Unethical Conduct Undermines Good Government and What to Do About It,” published last year.
In a talk on March 7, 2017 at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, he defined soft corruption as “unethical conduct of lawmakers and political leaders, which, while not illegal and not violating any laws, is harmful and undermines the delivery of good government to the people.”
Schluter’s death prompted tributes across the political aisle from those recalling him as a fighter who could work with Democrats.
“A tireless advocate for ethics and good governance, and for campaign finance laws that protect the integrity of our elections, he was never afraid to take on the politically tough fights,” said Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, in a statement. “The greatest tribute those of us in public office can pay is to seek to live up to his example.”
U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon, Essex, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren) represented the same legislative district as Schluter when the two men were state lawmakers. He said he had “lost a close friend and political mentor.”
“Bill Schluter epitomized public service in New Jersey,” Lance said. “A person of impeccable integrity, he significantly raised the ethical standards of our state Legislature. A fine hockey player in his youth at Exeter and Princeton, he was the consummate gentlemen on the playing field of life.”
In his remarks at the ELEC anniversary, Schluter recalled the give and take of getting the legislation passed, a bill that went through 12 versions. Compromise, he said, “is a two-edged sword.”
“You compromise on small things that don’t really matter as far as principle is concerned,” he said. “But you don’t compromise on principle.”
Schluter was defeated in his re-election bid for the state Senate in 1973 by Anne Martindell, amid a voter backlash against Watergate.
“Bill was a gentleman and I think they probably got a long personally fairly well,” said Martindell’s son, Roger. “But they were just coming from two different places and at that particular time, he happened to be in the wrong party.”
Schluter got back into state politics in the 1980s, first in the Assembly and then again in the Senate. The current leader of the Senate recalled Schluter’s ability to cross the aisle to get things done for New Jersey.
“He believed in the value of public service, he put progress ahead of partisanship and he was always willing to work with others with the selfless goals that served the needs of the public,” said state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Salem, Gloucester and Cumberland). “He was a passionate advocate for ethical conduct in political life and a dedicated public servant. Sen. Schluter represented what all of us who enter elected office aspire to be – honest and committed to making government work efficiently and effectively for all citizens.”
“He held his legislative colleagues to a very high ethical standard, a bar he never failed to meet,” said state Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Morris, Somerset and Union), leader of the Republicans in the Senate.