Most State-of-the-State addresses begin with the governor being “escorted” by legislators down the center aisle of the Assembly chamber amid polite applause.
This one began with a commercial.
Welcome to the pandemic-era State-of-the-State.
Before Phil Murphy’s recorded speech from a podium in an empty room rolled this afternoon, viewers saw a video of people telling all how great New Jersey is.
We learned that New Jersey is filled with “strong people” and that it’s “number one.”
In retrospect, the high school pep rally nature of things was quite appropriate. This was very much the unofficial start of the Murphy re-election campaign.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would be wrong to see the address as anything but that.
The pandemic was everywhere – literally. No audience meant no applause, which was another stark departure from the norm.
While Murphy spoke of the state being “tougher than ever” and “wiser than before,” it was hard to grasp what that actually meant.
Then, he highlighted what he sees as his accomplishments since he was sworn-in back in 2018.
And, in truth, many of the liberal aims Murphy campaigned on have been achieved.
The minimum wage has been increased and the family leave program expanded. Those earning at least a million dollars a year pay income taxes at a new, higher rate and there is no tuition for many students attending community college.
The governor also took credit for a revamped business incentive program, expanding health care services and advancing an off-shore wind program he called the best in the nation.
Coming around to legal pot, the governor said, “This hasn’t been an easy fight.”
In fact, the fight is not yet over. Murphy and lawmakers are still haggling over one aspect of legalizing recreational marijuana – penalties for those caught using it who are under 18.
For the most part, the governor avoided political pot shots at Republicans, or even Donald Trump – a pretty easy target these days. An exception was when Murphy talked about “baseless conspiracy theories” surrounding the recent election. On the contrary, the governor was delighted to talk about how more people voted in New Jersey than ever before.
That prompted him to mention that he still wants to start early, in-person voting in New Jersey. That’s up to the Legislature.
Speaking of voting, the 2021 election was shaken up a bit Monday when Republican Doug Steinhardt bowed out of the race. This was big news for insiders, but not for average voters who probably had no idea Steinhardt was in the race in the first place. At the moment, Jack Ciattarelli, who formally announced his campaign last January, is the GOP frontrunner.
The governor has time to focus on Ciattarelli, or whoever else pops up as a candidate.
But you got the feeling today he’s quite comfortable with how his three-years running the state are going.
“We are who we said we would be,” Murphy said.