TRENTON – A Democratic source sat in gloomy observation of the lame duck session, seeing in the actions on Thursday by the senate all the worst portents of a rift between Democratic Legislative Leadership and Governor-elect Phil Murphy. “They’re killing him already,” the source told InsiderNJ. “They’re killing him, and it’s a Democratic Senate doing it.”
The comment referred to Senate President Steve Sweeney’s (D-3) decision to move forward with the posting of 27 new superior court judges and numerous other sweeteners, including the nomination of Ed Oatman – chief of staff to gatekeeping Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nick Scutari (D-22) – to the Kean University Board of Trustees.
With departing Gov. Chris Christie still a willing opportunistic political partner of South Jersey Democrats, Sweeney appeared to be rushing to fill every nomination before a Democratic governor gets into office.
“What that is saying to Murphy is ‘go to hell,'” said the source. “And it’s emblematic. It is emblematic of the Sweeney-Murphy relationship.”
Murphy and Sweeney sparred in 2016 as candidates for the governorship, with Murphy ultimately prevailing, thanks to the support of the North County Democratic chairs, including Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman John Currie, who also serves as state party chairman.
Sweeney was noticeably absent last week in Middlesex as Democrats behind Murphy ratified another two-year term for Currie as state chairman.
Bad relations with Sweeney are but a part of Murphy’s challenge as he prepares to take office.
The Democrat ran on a millionaire’s tax to enhance state revenues, a plan that now appears in jeopardy as Republicans at the federal level – aided today by the resignation of U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) – move to approve a federal tax overhaul bill that targets New Jersey taxpayers. President Donald J. Trump is attempting to get his tax bill done by Christmas, even before Murphy assumes office.
“How do Democrats in the senate go out and ask for a millionaire’s tax if Washington doesn’t work out the SALT deduction?” the source wondered. “How do you do that?”
As Murphy prepares to head to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, sources say he has continuing early flare-ups behind the scenes, too, as he attempts to pull together his cabinet, with continuing difficulties this week surrounding his choice of a state attorney general. Two sources told InsiderNJ the contest for the position has come down to attorney Phil Sellinger and former first Attorney General Ricardo Solano. At least one other source said more names – or at least one other name – was also in play. The name of Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal circulated.
On Thursday the push was particularly on in powerful Democratic Party circles for Sellinger, sources said.