Phil Murphy was a familiar TV presence during the dark days of the pandemic.
During his routine briefings – generally at 1 p.m, – the governor provided updates, answered questions and paid tribute to those who perished. His appearances certainly gave needed visibility to a governor who many people probably knew little about.
In political terms, Murphy’s daily chats probably did him some good.
But now – three years later – the governor’s been hit with the political equivalent of a punch in the nose dating back to the pandemic.
A federal report last week sharply criticized the state’s pandemic response in regard to state-run veterans’ homes in Paramus and Menlo Park.
The language in the report by the U.S. Justice Department was to the point.
It said that deficiencies in how the homes were run let the virus spread “virtually unchecked throughout the facilities.”
The report also said there is “reasonable cause to believe” that residents of the homes face “unreasonable harm and risk” due to poor infection control and medical care.
There’s no debate providing care to the most vulnerable among us is a prime responsibility of government. In fact, many politicians on both sides of the aisle enjoy talking about how much they treasure senior citizens.
Lip service or not, the report makes clear that the state has failed some of those vulnerable and treasured seniors – and veterans to boot.
Everything is tinged by politics and Republicans wasted no time highlighting the state’s failures.
They do have credibility here.
Republicans, led by state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio of LD-26, have long criticized how the state handled COVID patients in both veterans’ homes and nursing homes.
“This administration failed our veterans,” Pennacchio said, quite simply, in a statement. Pennacchio is in a safe district, but more relevantly, perhaps, we also heard from Republicans in such competitive districts as 4, 11 and 38.
“If one ever needed a reason why Governor Murphy needs a check and balance in the State Legislature, this is it,” said Chris Del Borrello, the GOP Senate challenger in LD-4. “While all this is going on, (Democrat) Paul Moriarty sat silent and compliant, like the go-along-get-along career politician that he is and always will be.”
Up in LD-11, Senate candidate Steve Dnistrain used the report to rip incumbent Vin Gopal for failing “our communities.”
This is not a report that the Democrats can “spin.”
Nor is it a report, however, that the Dems could just ignore.
Here is part of what Gopal said in a statement:
“The findings in this report disgust me. United States veterans and their families have earned our respect through their dedication and service to our country and the very least they deserve, and should expect, are livable, safe conditions.”
Fellow Democratic Senator Joseph Vitale of LD-19 said, “The report reaffirms my belief that the operation of the Veterans Memorial Homes should be delegated to a new cabinet level department or authority. We are failing our veterans, and the status quo under the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is unacceptable.”
How about the governor?
Here is his statement:
“The U.S. Department of Justice’s report on the Veterans homes in Menlo Park and Paramus is a deeply disturbing reminder that the treatment received by our heroic veterans is unacceptable and, quite frankly, appalling. In an effort to provide our veterans with the care they deserve, over the past three years, our administration has instituted numerous processes and procedures to improve conditions, including most recently securing private management and assistance for these two homes.
“However, it is clear that we have significantly more work to do and we are open to exploring all options to deliver for our veterans the high level of care they deserve and are entitled to under the law. We commend the Legislature for their partnership to help us improve conditions, and we will continue to work together in any capacity to provide world-class care and services to our heroes and support to those who care for them.”
Some points need to be made.
As we said, Democrats had to say something, but whatever they say is not going to be all that convincing.
When you control all facets of state government, the responsibility is yours when things go wrong. You can’t have it any other way.
Still, it can not be completely overlooked that there is nothing unique with problems in nursing homes. That’s true regardless of who runs them and who the patients are.
Additionally, given the fact the COVID pandemic was a “once in a hundred-year type of thing,” there was no blueprint on how to handle it.
The legislative election is now a bit less than two months away.
Expect the veterans homes report to be a big issue for Republicans.
But will it truly help the GOP overcome nursing homes’ traditional problems, the Republicans’ registration disadvantage and a public that is usually apathetic about the state Legislature?
The Dems have to hope it does not.