Democratic tensions reach boiling point as budget deadline nears
Gov. Phil Murphy is flashing a bit of frustration at fellow Democrats in the state Legislature, and they aren’t taking the criticism quietly, as the deadline for enacting the state’s 2020 budget approaches this weekend.
“I am really struck by the gap philosophically between … what goes on down the street from me and the will of the people,” Murphy said. “I’ve never seen a gap like this. It’s a huge gap.”
Murphy has signed more than 300 laws since taking office so said it isn’t that he hasn’t been able to partner with the Legislature at times. But he said they’ve also had some differences.
“But there are in almost every instance heroes, folks who just stand up, like myself, that remind themselves that they come from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. That’s why we got elected. That’s why we’re here,” Murphy said.
“You looked at what happened in Queens yesterday,” Murphy said, referencing a Democratic primary for district attorney in which a progressive appears to have beaten the establishment candidate. “You’ll note that if you don’t get that you’ve missed a meeting in politics these days. That it isn’t just for the politics. It’s just because of the fundamentals questions of fairness and equity.”
Murphy repeatedly reiterated a rhetorical question he has been pounding all week – “Whose side are you on?” – that he said isn’t that hard to answer.
“There’s no question where the heartbeat of this state is. There’s no question why I got elected,” Murphy said.
“We’re here for a reason. That reason hasn’t changed. And I’ve kind of had it with folks who can’t answer that very clear question: Whose side are you on?” Murphy said. “I know which side I’m on. I know which side these folks are on. Folks down the street and elsewhere are going to have to answer that for themselves.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Murphy’s chief nemesis in Trenton, said Murphy “is starting to resemble Donald Trump in bombast, inconsistency and unreliability.”
“The governor is repeating himself with a series of misguided and misinformed tantrums in an attempt to distract attention from his legislative and policy failures. His statements have been inconsistent on the facts, but they have become consistently wrong,” Sweeney said.
“I want to be clear in stating that when it comes to recognizing which side I am on, I am on the side of the taxpayers of New Jersey and our hard working middle class families who want public officials to actually take their side, not just repeat empty rhetoric,” he said.
Sweeney said “the Legislature and the working people throughout the state” will work to move New Jersey forward – “with or without the governor’s participation.”
“The reality is, Phil Murphy has no real agenda, no realistic plans to fix what is wrong in New Jersey, and no idea how to address the property tax crisis, the state’s most demanding problem,” Sweeney said. “And when it comes to choosing sides, Gov. Murphy is more beholden to selfish, special-interest groups such as the leadership of the NJEA and CWA than to everyday working people.”
Murphy hadn’t mentioned Sweeney by name but had made it clear that was a main subject of his critique. He said he’s not attempting to change any individual in the Legislature.
“It’s an effort to change the heartbeat of that organization, which is inside of a bubble, used to doing business the same way for decades. And I didn’t get sent here to get sucked into doing the same old, same old,” Murphy said.
Seton Hall University political scientist Matthew Hale said Murphy is being consistent, even if that means conflict with the more moderate leaders of the state Legislature.
“I think that Gov. Murphy has decided that he’s going to remain a pure, progressive Democratic and that he is maybe going to go down with the ship as a pure, progressive Democrat,” Hale said. “He seems to be focusing on making sure that he’s got kind of this ideological purity about all of the things that basically the progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants.”
“And he’s sticking to his guns. I think that the governor has shown time and time again that brung him. And the progressives are the one who pushed him over and into the office, and he’s going to stick with that,” he said. “We’ll see if it works, but I think he’s decided that that’s where he wants to lay his hat.”
Hale said the strategy could have a benefit if Murphy eyes a future in national politics, such as a Cabinet position like secretary of state. Murphy is a former ambassador to Germany.
“In some respects, it seems to me that it might be a calling card for the next Democratic president, to remember that Phil Murphy stayed the course with progressive values,” Hale said.
“I don’t want to make it sound like he’s just doing this for pure politics. I think this is truly who he is and what he believes. And he’s sticking to that,” he said. “But it certainly could be a calling card for a progressive Democratic president, if that actually happens.”