One year ago tonight, an ebullient and loose-limbed new governor celebrated his inauguration under a heated tent on the field of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. The menu paid tribute to some of New Jersey’s – and New Jersey Democrats’ – most important constituencies; Iron Bound Section, Jersey Italian Market, Hudson Melting Pot, Jersey Shore Points. Lighting: dramatic. Mood: hopeful. Shoes: Allbirds. Insiders and wanna-be insiders crowded in to celebrate the new guy, and dance away dark memories of the blowhard ex-gov. But he too began his statehouse adventure with black-tie optional, rich foods, and possibilities.
And look what happened to him.
Or the guy before him. Jon Corzine was an emerging progressive hope when he was in the U. S. Senate, a guy who like Murphy got to play largely because he’d earned a ton at Goldman Sachs (Murphy and Corzine are friends, and Murphy gets White House speculation just like Corzine). Corzine exercised some bravery and leadership in the Senate, for example voting NAY on the 2002 Iraq War along with only 22 other senators and 126 House members (remember which New Jerseyans voted with him?) But he left Congress to run for Governor, likely as a stepping stone to a White House run. He never made it, and neither did Christie. Corzine’s polling cratered in 2006 when he couldn’t crack a budget with the Legislature and it all escalated into the first state government shutdown in New Jersey’s history (shutdown flashback, in case Trump’s shutdown mess isn’t stressful enough for ya). He never recovered from that. Christie came along with a peacock strut and bulldozing bullshit that Jersey voters took for brutal honesty (but Trump did better if you wanna know why Christie’s dream died).
I don’t want the same thing to happen to Phil Murphy. The guy’s been under attack from his own party – my Party – since he got there, because he had the nerve to outplay some big New Jersey names, including one who probably thought the way would be cleared for him. As Jersey governors go, Murphy is imperfect. And though he was fabulously successful in the finance sector, operating with power among the bully-boys (and girls) of the NJ legislature, a bruising arena, uses very different muscles. And he may not have them yet. He has the same disadvantage that torpedoed Corzine; no history of working with this or any other state legislature.
I’m not into tantrums, be they Presidential or Senate Presidential. Steve Sweeney, buttressed by George Norcross, is a huge part of a long period of cheating taxpayers and scapegoating public workers. That includes $11 Billion in corporate welfare, much of it Christie-era with money toward Norcross-connected corporate interests, without a sensible system in place to make sure promised jobs were actually delivered (I’d argue given the personnel that any system of checking was deliberately left off). Christie’s ‘Democratic helpers,’ as Steve Kornacki called them, helped build Christie into a national brand, albeit one that torpedoed, all at the cost of New Jersey. Bridgegate would never have happened if state Dem uber-leaders like Sweeney hadn’t built up Team Christie which intimidated Democrats into supporting Christie’s re-election – and punishing those who refused by endangering lives on the busiest bridge in the world.
So, it’s easy for me to pick sides. My governor is imperfect, and needs to figure out how to get what we need from the hostile forces in the Legislature. And though his family deserves his time too, I wish he hadn’t gone off for a lengthy vacay in Tanzania with $15 minimum wage and marijuana in flux and the federal government about to go into shutdown (which began when Murphy was in Africa). His second overseas vacay of the year. Optics matter. But I like this governor, I believe he’s fundamentally decent, and not everyone in my Party is. I believe Murphy wants to guide the state in a better direction the best way he’s able. I’ve said before that those long, off-record chats with leaders of all kinds of constituencies (including me) – long before declaring for gov – were not just strategic but also a good-faith effort to learn the issues from many angles. And that includes from people who don’t get that access from lesser governors. So it’s easy for me to pick sides. I’m Team Phil, for cause. That’s the way it’s going to be, including if my Party forces us all into dumb proxy wars.
But the fact that my Party forces me to choose says everything about how petty and weak my Party can be. Tied up in food fights, turf wars, and jockeying for position. And that, as much any $11 Billion in corpo-welfare out the window, is a huge goddamn waste.
PHOTO CREDITS: Phil & Tammy Murphy: Screenshot from iPhone video. Steve Sweeney at Statehouse: Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger