Murphy Fails to Learn From Mistakes
TRENTON — A new year is a time for new beginnings, but Gov. Phil Murphy continues to struggle to recover from a series of missteps during his first year in office.
Insiders are telling me they are seeing few signs the governor has learned from his mistakes, and is taking corrective action.
Murphy has yet to make major changes to a staff that has struggled to navigate the complicated political maze at the State House. The lack of experience and relationships with staffers in the legislature has been glaringly evident as talks continue to come to a compromise on the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey.
Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin will meet face-to-face with the governor this week. While those high-level talks can frame out the basic structure of an agreement, it’s the lower-level staff that works out the details and actually forms the enabling legislation. Both Sweeney and Coughlin have a team of veteran operatives. Murphy’s team is largely made up of loyalists who share the governor’s progressive vision, but lack the experience needed to play the cutthroat game of politics in Trenton.
Adding to the governor’s woes is the growing scandal involving a former campaign staffer who accuses a fellow staffer of rape.
Katie Brennan has already testified before a legislative committee investigating the hiring practices of the Murphy administration. She is scheduled to testify again Tuesday. Brennan has also formally filed a lawsuit against the administration, naming several "John Doe" defendants. It’s believed many of those Does are high-level Murphy staffers, and perhaps even the governor himself. Brennan’s story raised several serious questions about both the competency and integrity of the administration as they appeared to turn a blind eye to her pleas for justice.
The Brennan hearings are further evidence of just how big the disconnect is between the Murphy administration and Democratic leaders in the legislature. State House observers are quick to note not one fellow Democrat came to the defense of the governor.
Contrast that with the Bridgegate hearings during the Chris Christie years. Even as the evidence mounted against Christie, he had fellow Republican members on the investigative committee coming to his defense. Just the opposite was true for Murphy and fellow Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said the conduct of the administration was "disturbing," and openly questioned who was in charge in the governor’s office, saying, "This is kind of astounding, really."
Democratic Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, asked, "Where’s the disconnect ... I don’t understand that level of dysfunction." Democrats on the committee have also not ruled out calling Murphy to testify.
With contentious budget talks ahead, Murphy could use all the Democratic support he can get. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much, if any. One longtime Democratic Trenton observer tells me, "It’s shocking how tone deaf this governor seems to be about how to advance his agenda. He’s fielding a team of junior varsity high school players to play in the Super Bowl."