INSIDERNJ EXCLUSIVE: Governor Murphy on Progressives v. Machines, His Agenda Past and Future, Menendez, and Whitman’s Call for Trump to Resign (with VIDEO)

EAST NEWARK – The front door to Tops Diner swung wide and in walked Governor Phil Murphy, beaming amid an almost instantaneous onslaught of ear bending and entreaties for his picture as he waded among the crowded lunch-hour booths.

Someone immediately had him in a corner.

“Doing a great job, governor,” said about three different people as they grabbed for his hand.

It’s a narrative that Murphy’s allies embrace. It amounts to this: they can try to tar and feather him in Trenton -long a dreaded haven for cronyism and chicanery – as long as he has a chance to get elbow to elbow with real folk in gritty places like East Newark.

But six months in, the New Jersey Governor’s political story reflects, in part, that familiar New Jersey Democratic Party plotline of political fracture, notably between the progressive wing of the party and that establishment machinery otherwise known as boss land. The Democratic Party organizations all got behind Phil Murphy for Governor last year, but didn’t help advance his budget as party lawmakers instead embraced a $37.4 billion version prepared by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and his allies, forcing the Governor to make some key compromises to avoid a government shutdown. In Thursday, the Democratically-controlled senate voted 28-3 for a ballot question that would strip the governor of his constitutional authority to certify how much the state gets annually in revenue.

The animated Murphy doesn’t buy that narrative, noting those areas where his administration worked with the party majority this year to drive his agenda, and produce key budget priorities that Trenton ultimately collectively realized. InsiderNJ sat down with the Governor this afternoon in a Tops diner booth to ask him about the perceived divide, prompting him to give his argument for why the general public shouldn’t just see Democrats mud-fighting on his watch, but in fact advancing what he calls a progressive pro-growth agenda.

“I think at the end of the day if you look at the first six months plus that we’ve been in office, we’ve gotten a lot more done on our collective agenda than I ever thought we would have,” said Murphy.

“If you’re a progressive, as I am, you look at funding planned parenthood, signing sensible gun safety laws, equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave and a whole host of things, but I’m also a pro-growth progressive, we put an enormous amount of emphasis into things like incenting incubators, a big research and development tax credit; if you care about property taxes, as we all have to, because they’re out of control, getting toward fully funding public education, putting the homestead rebate back in in a meaningful way, raising the cap on your state deduction of your property taxes from ten to 15, those are all meaningful,” the Governor added.

“Depending on the lens, if you believe in a stronger and fairer state, as I do, I think we’ve made an enormous amount of strides,” Murphy said. “Democratic Party institutions are realities, sometimes you’ve got to navigate through every day; some days are easier than others, but if you look at what we’ve accomplished – and I’m not spiking the football, we’ve got a long way to go – we’ve gotten a lot accomplished.”

The Governor said he is very optimistic about those three main agenda items now on his plate: a $15 minimum wage, medical marijuana and legalized recreational marijuana for adults. On the first of these in particular the fight will come down to key details, as numerous elected officials in both parties worry about the impact on mom and pop businesses, but the Governor said he is optimistic on the heels of his first budget fight.

He never believed it would be anything other than a dogfight, given the dimensions of the party itself, where there are days when he can just about imagine the ghost of Bobby Kennedy on one shoulder and that of fierce Kennedy rival Lyndon Baines Johnson on the other. For Murphy, empathetic politics, that identification with a suffering world embodied by the post-1963 era RFK, finds its governmental complement in the hard-edged tactics of LBJ.

Both have to live together.

Just as he and archrival Sweeney, in a larger sense, must live in proximity to each other.

“We’re the big tent party,” Murphy said. “I’m proud as heck of that. We wear that as a badge of honor.”

But, he acknowledged, “It’s also our biggest challenge, it always has been – whether it’s New Jersey or nationally,” the Governor said. “Some days we’re all singing from the same page of the hymnal, and other days we’re not necessarily seeing things the same way. I give us all – all of us collectively – a lot of credit, for finding a lot of common ground. We got overwhelmingly what we wanted. I think we are not going to be in the exact same lace but at the end of the day, I’m a proud Democrat and a proud pro-growth progressive.”

As the state heads toward the general election, Republicans see an opportunity to make U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – wounded last year by a corruption trial that hung a jury in the process – an uncomfortable storyline for Democrats in battleground districts.

Murphy is a big Menendez backer and doesn’t see the incumbent senator as a hinderance in the trenches.

“He’s a bulldog,” said the Governor.  “We need him now more than ever. He’s the fiercest of advocates. Just look at yesterday, the way he was grilling the secretary of state on Russia. Look at the role he’ll play on the supreme court nomination of a guy we need to defeat. Look at his advocacy across a whole range of issues. We couldn’t have a better advocate. I don’t know where we’d be without him. The electorate understands that and they’ll vote with their feet in November.”

InsiderNJ asked Murphy to comment, too, on former Governor Christie Todd Whitman’s comment earlier this week that President Donald J. Trump should resign.

Does the sitting Governor agree with his Republican predecessor?

“I think we should try to beat these folks at the ballot box,” Murphy said. “I don’t think he’s thinking about resignation, I don’t know him well enough to know that, but even if we think there are grounds for impeachment, that takes away from the winning argument that we are the party that is going to create the jobs, protect your benefits, create good public education and build the infrastructure. We’re going to make sure your health care is protected. That is where the focus has to be.”

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One response to “INSIDERNJ EXCLUSIVE: Governor Murphy on Progressives v. Machines, His Agenda Past and Future, Menendez, and Whitman’s Call for Trump to Resign (with VIDEO)”

  1. Moral bankrupt Menendez calling for anyone to step down is laughable. And having Murphy back the accused pedophile, tells you something about Murphy.

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