Phil Murphy Sworn In As New Jersey Governor

January 20, 2018
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Gov. Philip D. Murphy took the oath of office on Jan. 16 to become the 56th Governor of New Jersey. The Democrat and Middletown resident hopes to usher in a new wave of Garden State politics. – Courtesy Office of the Governor

By Jay Cook |

As Gov. Philip D. Murphy recited the oath of office earlier this week before the same bible President John F. Kennedy used nearly 50 years ago, a significant Monmouth County contingent looked on as the Middletown native will shift New Jersey’s vision in a new direction.

Not only were his wife and four kids sitting on stage, but so were a number of New Jerseyans with ties to the Two River area. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) was in the second row behind the newly elected governor. So was former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadango, a Monmouth Beach resident. The afternoon’s invocation was even delivered by Rev. Msgr. Philip A. Lowery, a longtime leader of the St. James parish in the heart of Red Bank.

But Murphy, a Democrat who won the 2017 general election by a commanding 280,000 votes over Guadagno, said he will involve the entire state as it looks to the future.

“We have visited every New Jersey county and met tens of thousands of people longing for leadership that will restore their confidence in the future of our state and their hold on the American Dream,” Murphy said.

The hallmark of his campaign was about creating a “stronger and fairer New Jersey that works for every family.” Murphy outlined a number of different initiatives to reach those peaks.

Criminal Justice Reform and Marijuana

Murphy only briefly mentioned it, but during his address, he said the state will focus on widespread criminal justice reform “including a process to legalize marijuana.”

While opponents say marijuana legalization could be detrimental to the state, the plan does have its supporters, like Pallone.

“I favor his position on the legalization of marijuana because I think it’s part of criminal justice reform,” Pallone told The Two River Times. “We have too many young people who just get locked up and have this on their record, and at the same time that there’s no indication that marijuana is really harmful.”

Murphy has not put a timestamp on when he would like to completely legalize it, but he does believe it will alleviate the burden on low-level offenders and those stuck in the criminal justice system.

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Pallone added legalization would in turn create revenue for New Jersey, but said that is secondary.

“I think the trend is legalize it, prevent (arrests), have the state tax it and make revenue,” Pallone said.

$15 Minimum Wage

Murphy, yearning for more equality in the middle class, said he will in short order ask the state legislature to send him bills asking for a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Currently, the minimum wage sits at $8.68, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

What effect would that have on New Jersey? State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) said it could be detrimental to small businesses across.

“Talk to folks in the restaurant industry, talk to folks in seasonal businesses, talk to folks in manufacturing,” O’Scanlon told The Two River Times. “They are terrified of state government coming in and dictating how they operate their businesses.”

O’Scanlon said nobody wants to see people work for small wages, but the argument for better pay is more philosophical: should the answer be with government intervention or with making it easier for companies to do business? He agreed with the latter.

O’Scanlon added the state legislature estimates with the cost increases to local governments and independent healthcare providers, a $15 minimum wage would cost New Jersey $500 million.

“All of these wonderfully sounding things are not without consequences, and people need to understand that.”

Former NJ Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver was sworn in as Lt. Governor of New Jersey, succeeding Kim Guadagno.

The Environment

Last week, Murphy met with local elected officials in Long Branch to publicly combat President Donald Trump’s initiative to allow for off-shore drilling along the Jersey Shore.

“We will not allow this threat to our environment and our economy to stand,” Murphy said. “Our administration, along with the bipartisan support of our federal delegation, will not back down in our fight to protect the Jersey Shore from President Trump and the energy industry special interests.”

Pallone, along with many other environmental groups and officials, have come out in defense of the Jersey Shore. He said it’s refreshing Murphy will “have a very strong pro-environment agenda that directly relates to the Shore.”

Murphy said a “stronger and fairer New Jersey accepts the reality of climate change, invests aggressively in renewable energy and upholds the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.”

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Pallone’s district encompasses the Jersey Shore from Manasquan up to the Raritan Bay into Middlesex County. He added he’s happy to have an ally who lives along the Shore.

“Having clean water, clean air, cleaned-up Superfund sites, preventing off-shore drilling in the oceans, and pollution of those oceans and rivers is very important, and he stressed that,” Pallone said.

Economic Improvements

Removed from the $15 minimum wage, Murphy said his administration will invest in the growth of businesses and aim to harbor tech companies looking to call the Garden State home.

“New Jersey is always known, since Thomas Edison certainly, as a place of new invention and new ideas that lead to more jobs and new economic activity,” Pallone said. “That was the most important thing.”

O’Scanlon, on the other hand, was critical of the rhetoric coming from the Murphy camp. He said economic growth will be hard if the 2 percent arbitrational work cap isn’t reinstituted after sun-setting at the end of 2017. He said so far, the conversation “sounds like paralysis rather than thoughtful analysis.

“It is the first big litmus test of the democratic legislative leadership and this governor,” O’Scanlon added. “So far they are failing it miserably.”

One thing Pallone and O’Scanlon do agree on, though, is the future for Monmouth Park in Oceanport. Both have been supporters of introducing sports betting to the horse track so it can stay stable for years to come, and O’Scanlon said Murphy “seems to have a genuine interest in helping that industry.”

Murphy, The Man

Murphy’s story of coming from a working class, poor family in the suburbs of Boston is well-documented.

“My parents never accepted our circumstances as just part of a family condition in which we were all trapped,” he said. “They pushed my brother, my two sisters, and me to work hard and to dream bigger than they had.”

And for Pallone and O’Scanlon, who Murphy technically is a constituent of – he’s a Middletown resident – are happy to have good relationships with the Governor for the nect four years.

“It was just so great to see somebody from my district (get elected),” Pallone said. “He is such a great family man, it’s like the whole family is being brought into the government.”

“I really, genuinely like Phil Murphy,” O’Scanlon added. “He’s a constituent of mine, but even where we knock, he seems like a really genuine, smart and nice guy.”

This article was first published in the Jan. 18-25, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.

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