Republican Leader Senator Steven Oroho (R-24), Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13), and Senator Michael Testa (R-1), want Governor Murphy to “give it back”—powers on health policy, school masking, and money sitting in the state’s coffers. The senators announced via a Zoom press conference Thursday afternoon that they have launched an initiative to pressure the governor not to renew his emergency powers and to return to New Jerseyans the budgetary surplus and powers held by the executive branch during the pandemic. The initiative is dubbed “Give It Back” and is manifested online at www.giveitback.us as a petition for New Jersey residents to fill out.
“Governor Murphy has taken so much from New Jerseyans since the start of the pandemic,” Oroho said. “He’s taken money, he’s taken power, and he’s taken rights, choices, and freedoms from every single New Jerseyan. We’re going to help New Jerseyans to send him the message that it’s time to give it back.”
O’Scanlon cited declining COVID infection rates as a reason the state of emergency should not be extended, saying that the present figures are at a tenth the level predicted by the state. “The administration’s record in making the projections upon which their policies are based is horrific. On January 10 the Health Commissioner predicted that, today, we would have 20 to 30,000 new cases a day and 8,000 people in the hospital… Hospital numbers are plummeting, as the executives have told me, they need to stop making policy based on these projections. They need to give the power to make these decisions back to the people.”
Additionally, Senator Oroho called for support for Senator O’Scanlon’s Senate Bill S1200, sponsored by Senator O’Scanlon and Senator Gopal—a Democrat, co-sponsored by Senators Testa, Durr, Schepisi, Bucco, Corrado, Holzapfel, Stanfield, Pennacchio, and himself. The aim of that bill, the senators said, was to restore the co-equal nature of the legislature with the executive branch.
“We’ve been after this since May of 2020,” Testa said. “Governor Murphy has been ruling by executive order since March of 2020.” Testa said that the legislature faced a third year in a row of being “kept out of the business of government” and that this should inspire residents to tell Murphy to “give it back,” once again echoing the name of their new initiative.
Senate bill S1200, O’Scanlon said, was not designed to “punish” Governor Murphy but rather to rebalance the power structure in the state between the legislature and executive branches. The senators commended Gopal’s across-the-aisle support, but so far the bill remains highly partisan. O’Scanlon said, “It’s my understanding that the administration cracked the whip and the rest of the Democrats in the legislature are hesitating. What I would say is, if you’re a legislator, if you don’t back our whole give back effort and my bill, what you’re saying is, ‘I’m spineless and I don’t want to do my job.’ That’s a hell of a message to be sending to your constituents who, loud and clear, sent a message last November and they don’t want to hear that.” O’Scanlon said that if the governor does decide to extend the public health emergency, that they expect to see a further surge in support.
Among the Republicans’ charges against the governor were Murphy’s vaccine mandates for police, first responders, and medical workers, where refusal to get vaccinated would result in the loss of their employment. On vaccine mandates, O’Scanlon said, “I have a record of believing in vaccines and advocating for vaccine efficacy. But these vaccine mandates for healthcare workers and public safety workers poses a greater threat than benefit. The biggest thing that people should be worried about in a hospital is lack of staff to care for them, not contracting COVID from an unvaccinated worker, especially if they’ve had COVID beforehand. It’s foolish.”
Senators Testa and O’Scanlon were on the same page as far as mandates were concerned. “[Governor Murphy] took away vaccine choice from police and fire and health care workers, corrections officers, and many others,” Testa said. “He originally applauded these heroes, who have been on the front lines since the start of the pandemic, by threatening their jobs and their livelihoods if they don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. Their freedom on this choice—he should give it back.”
Testa also blasted the governor on economics and policing, saying that a third of small businesses in the state were shuttered because of his policies and that crime had risen as well. “Governor Murphy took away our safe streets by releasing 40% of our prison population from our state prison, leading to a surge in crime in our communities. He should give it back.”
Senator Testa asked New Jerseyans to use social media to boost their message online. “We are asking New Jerseyans to post the short messages and videos on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, telling Governor Murphy what he’s taking from them and to give it back. We’re asking everyone to tag their posts with the hashtag #GiveItBack so Governor Murphy can see how much he has taken from New Jerseyans and help him make the right decision to give it back.”
Senators Oroho and O’Scanlon acknowledged that the timing of Governor Murphy’s decision to renew—or not renew—emergency powers next week played a part in the launching of the Give It Back initiative, but that the idea had come to them after they had seen “an obscene” amount of money the state was holding onto. Money, they say, which rightfully belongs in the pockets of New Jerseyans. “On the budget: we have $3 billion, probably more than that, that we didn’t anticipate collecting,” O’Scanlon said. “It is not anticipated in the budget, and we don’t need it. That’s a huge amount of money to give back to the public, to businesses who need it now more than ever to get through this period of time.”
As the Republicans seek to capitalize on “COVID fatigue” in the state, Governor Murphy’s decision to renew or not renew the public health emergency will be felt in the halls of Trenton as either marking a turning point in the pandemic—politically, at least—or the continuation of what has been an ultra-polarizing crisis in the Garden State. The Republicans may also be dearly seeking a win, as the State Supreme Court recently dismissed a GOP challenge to the decision of the congressional redistricting commission. Further, the Red Wave of 2021, while ringing the alarm bells of Democrat hubris, did not ultimately displace the Democratic power structure in the state, Senator Steve Sweeney—former senate president and Murphy antagonist—a notable exception.