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Sporting a North Brunswick pin, Governor Phil Murphy hosted a town hall in that same municipality Thursday night. “This is an official government event, it’s not a political one,” Murphy said, prior to asking the audience who they were going to vote for, for president. One more than one occasion, Murphy tried to assuage some sharp remarks at the mention of the candidates.
For those who have followed the governor’s town halls, the structure and content was largely the same as past ones. However, the governor mentioned his recent workplace reform proposal, “because we want to be at the top of that American class.”
Governor Murphy explained. “We’ve announced pending legislation as well as executive orders on a whole range of sexual harassment issues: how do you define an employee? How do you define a workplace environment? How do you look at the statute of limitations, is it long enough? A whole comprehensive set of specific steps in the gaming industry, specific steps for how to get a license in this state of which is about 8% of us with a professional license. What’s the process to get that license? What’s the code of conduct to keep that license? Assuming that legislation finds its way to my desk, and I sign it, and those executive orders happen—and they will happen either way. No other state in America—this is not just government, this is the whole state, public and private sector will be operating under an environment that no other state will be operating under. And that was only a couple days ago.”
The governor then segued into his second set of points, ultimately rolling up his agenda as a combined package of “values”. “Yesterday, I announced another set of legislation focused on ethics reform to make sure that when folks look at government it is transparent, it works for us, it doesn’t just work for the insiders, it’s not a special interest cabal but folks are doing at all levels… How do gift work in your life? What access do you get to bills? How long should a bill be posted before you’re able to vote on it? If you leave government how soon can it be before you are able to lobby government? We haven’t looked at this in at least a decade in New Jersey. Those are two new ones to the list, literally press off the press this week.”
The governor has been unable to shake off allegations of sexual misconduct and toxic workplace claims from within his inner circle stemming from his 2017 campaign, the most prominent of all being the Katie Brennan-Al Alvarez case. As a result, Murphy has spent considerable capital trying to undo the damage to his brand and for women demeaned by male counterparts in the public sector and subject to harassment from various quarters. “We want to be number one on a whole range of workplace conditions, sexual harassment—both in government and private sector—and second, we want to have our ethical standards to be at the head of the American class. And we’ve got work to do on both. That adds to that list of values, it’s not only trying to have it both ways, getting all that we get back for the investments that we make and the price we pay but also to say we love our values and we love what we stand for.”
Circling back to where he began, Governor Murphy returned to the topic of the election, extolling the value of the vote. “I don’t care what party you are in, I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican, unaffiliated, Communist, whatever it is. Make sure you vote. Let the chips fall where they may, whether the presidential election, county, local, regardless of party, the most sacred right we have in a democracy is the right to vote. The amount of folks who abdicate that in our country is world class jaw dropping.”
From a political perspective, Murphy finds himself in a difficult position as far as the presidential candidates are concerned. With the loss of Cory Booker, there is no potential New Jersey conduit to the White House and Murphy, as a self-styled progressive champion, risks considerable political capital within his own fractured party by aligning himself with current front-runner Bernie Sanders. At the previous Democratic debate, all of the candidates expressed their willingness for a convention battle. Eventually, Murphy will be expected to endorse someone, but for the moment, as he said in the beginning of the town hall, “may the best person win.”