In our 2017 gubernatorial elections NJ State Democratic Committee Chair John Currie early on supported Phil Murphy. That did not sit well with Senate President Steve Sweeney who then felt compelled to end his candidacy. Sweeney’s relationship with Murphy and Currie has been going downhill since then. In spite of one party controlling the executive and legislative branches the internecine divisions in our governance are deep. Even in our midterm elections where we gained four freshmen Democratic representatives, their positions while not as progressive as we might like, seem closer to those of Murphy than of Sweeney.
With Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin often joining Sweeney, important Murphy legislation has been stalled. With no rapprochement on the horizon there are diminished expectations for 2019. Marijuana legalization and the $15.00 minimum wage are just two examples of Murphy’s priorities which the legislature failed to pass this year. Sweeney’s fiat on no new taxes in the next budget will further hamper Murphy’s efforts.
In November Sweeney sponsored a bill calling for a constitutional amendment on reapportionment which diminished the role of Currie and increased the role of Sweeney and the legislature. This unreasonable power grab also strengthened the likelihood of Democratic dominance for years into the future. Republicans opposed it, but so did many Democratic activist groups. As result the bill was removed from consideration, but may yet raise its its ugly countenance In 2019.
With the upcoming election for the Democratic party chair in 2019, Sweeney and his allies promoted Leroy Jones, Essex County Democratic Chair, to oppose Currie. Groups, some of which see Currie as too establishment, nonetheless rallied to support him. More than a dozen grassroots progressive activists have endorsed Currie including New Jersey Working Families Alliance, Action Together New Jersey, NJ 11th for Change, Blue Wave, and New Jersey Citizen Action. The outcome of this battle remains uncertain.
In the 2018 midterm elections it was progressive activists who brought about four new freshmen representatives. Antipathy toward Trump and tired of the conservative incumbents played a role in the election. Nonetheless, the blue wave, while not as progressive as we might have wanted, clearly signaled that New Jerseyans wanted a change in course.
Sweeney and his allies disagree with much of this new direction and are engaged in too many petty battles with our governor. The disarray is hurting us. Murphy has to up his game and Sweeney has to become more collegial.