Brennan Hearing a Big Test for Phil Murphy and His Agenda
Barely a year into his first term as governor, Democrat Phil Murphy is at a crossroads. He has struggled to advance an ambitious progressive agenda, despite having a Democratic majority in the legislature. Murphy's relationship with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin can be described as "chilly," at best. Behind the scenes, they rarely talk, and have yet to forge the kind of relationship that is needed to accomplish much of anything.
As lawmakers begin hearings on the governor's hiring practices, it is another example of how strained the relationship is between the executive and legislative branches. Fellow Democrats have openly questioned whether Murphy is telling the truth about not being aware of rape allegations made by Katie Brennen against Al Alvarez when both were working on his gubernatorial campaign. Brennen has showed emails between her and Murphy from last June suggesting the governor knew something about a sensitive matter, but hired Alvarez for a job in the administration anyway.
Publicly, Murphy has continued to downplay these hearings, but privately is concerned about them further delaying the social agenda he envisioned delivering in his first year. (Squabbling with Sweeney and Coughlin has already pushed votes on legalizing marijuana for recreational use into next year.) There are reports that concern prompted high level Murphy aides to pressure lawmakers not to hold the hearings. On Monday, Murphy denied that, and voiced support for the hearings while also cautioning legislators not to get "political."
In the #metoo era, these hearings have the potential to be more than a distraction for Murphy. Already facing credibility issues, they could further erode the public's trust in Murphy and add an additional strain on his relationship with a Democratic legislature that has been less than enthusiastic about advancing his agenda.