Craig Coughlin on Tuesday took the oath for his second term as New Jersey General Assembly Speaker, challenging his colleagues, “to be bolder, to be more imaginative and not to just make progress, but to make Real Change!
“The people of New Jersey have the right to demand we put aside our egos and ambitions and do what is right for them,” said Coughlin said as he spoke to the crowd gathered for the Assembly reorganization ceremony at the Trenton War Memorial. “Let’s make the 219th Legislature one that is defined by our willingness to tackle real, hard challenges that make a difference in people’s lives. Let’s continue our efforts to make New Jersey more affordable.”
Coughlin, a Democrat from Woodbridge, will preside over the 80-member Assembly. Democrats have held the majority since 2002 and hold an expanded 52-28 majority in the 2020-22 legislative session.
“Two years ago we committed to an agenda that put working, middle class New Jerseyans first,” Coughlin said. “For the past two years, As Speaker, that principal has guided my work. We succeeded in passing difficult legislation that will improve affordability and quality of life in New Jersey”
The Speaker noted the legislature’s passage of bills to require that women be paid the same as men, increasing the minimum wage expanding earned sick leave and family leave, fully funding the Homestead rebate and senior Freeze program, tackling food insecurity, and addressing property taxes.
“To help school districts control property taxes we increased school funding by $700 million while ensuring that our public school remain the best in the nation,” Coughlin said.
He highlighted workplace protection, efforts to combat maternal health and infant mortality, modernizing the state’s medical cannabis program, investing in clean energy and passing legislation that commits $30 million annually to encourage the use of electric vehicles.
“All of this would not have been possible without the agreement and cooperation of Senate President Steve Sweeney and Governor Phil Murphy,” Coughlin said. “I commend them for their accomplishments and thank them for their friendship.”
Coughlin, an attorney, received his bachelor of sciences degree from St. John’s University and his law degree from St. John’s University School of Law. He began his public service by serving on the South Amboy school board from 1983 to 1987. He then was elected to the South Amboy City Council in 1986, serving until 1993.
He became a Municipal Court judge in Edison Township in 2005, serving until 2009, when he joined the Assembly, representing the 19th Legislative District, which includes Carteret, Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Amboy and Woodbridge in Middlesex County.
Coughlin has also been heavily involved in community efforts, serving as volunteer fireman in South Amboy from 1976 to 1982 and on the executive board of the Fords Clara Barton Baseball League from 1996 to 2010. His annual bowling event in partnership with Hackensack Meridian Health and the Middlesex Water Company raises money for local food pantries. Since 2010, it has raised more than $300,000.
Coughlin vowed to always put Garden State residents first.
“”We’ve succeeded because we kept the needs of the 9 million New Jerseyans who entrusted us to make the rule front and center,” Coughlin said. “In the 219th session of the Assembly we will take on rebuilding the state’s water infrastructure, address the affordable housing crisis, rein in healthcare costs and continue to combat hunger to name just a few pressing issues.”
Speaker Coughlin’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
I want to thank each of you for coming out today as we open the 219th Legislature and I thank my colleagues for once again granting me the honor to serve as your Speaker.
It is a humbling and extraordinary honor that inspires me every day to justify your faith in me.
I want to thank Kevin Reina, who did the invocation today.
In addition to being an outstanding deacon, Kevin has been my best friend since we met at St Johns 44 years ago.
And Paul DiLeo, who led us into today and is the best, Italian bagpiper I have ever met.
How about the extraordinary Woodbridge High School Choir and Band!
And our soloist Philip Chun!
Thank you for sharing your talents and for always making our hometown look so good.
By the way kids, no need to thank me for the day off.
Detective Cindy Chavez – thank you for your service to country and community…
Thank you Justice Barry Albin for being here this afternoon and for decades of friendship.
And to Rabbi Richler, who will be closing this program after my brief, two hour speech.
I look forward to all the great things you will say about me.
I want to thank the people who have supported me over the years and have made my success possible.
To my late Mother…who is responsible for making me who I am…and ever will be;
To Gary, Kevin, Artie, Laurie, Scott, Dan, Dan, Skip, Dave, Lou and Julie…the best team around, thank you for your hard work and friendship.
To my amazing extended family. You are always there to root me on and you are the most wonderful family anyone could ever have, Craig, Vincent, Nicholas, Cathy, Robin and Melissa.
And of course, my wife, Tish who is the foundation of our family, my closest friend, confidante, adviser and supporter.
You are nothing short of extraordinary.
Tish, you keep me grounded and humble and remind me every day that I am the luckiest guy in the world.
I would also like to congratulate Majority Leader, Lou Greenwald and Minority Leader, Jon Bramnick for being chosen by their caucuses.
I look forward to their camaraderie and leadership in the next 2 years.
I would especially like to welcome our seven (7) new members.
For each of you, it is humbling that your fellow citizens think enough of your judgment to give you the power to make the rules.
Please….. give them a month before they have second thoughts
Each of us….controls how we use the responsibility we have been given.
We control whether we fail or succeed.
We determine whether we achieve rhetoric or results. It won’t be easy. The work we do is challenging.
I remember back before I was elected – sitting on my couch, drinking my morning coffee and reading the paper…
I would read about the all the actions and decisions being made in Trenton.
I assure you, the decisions are much easier when you aren’t the one who has to make them.
That is 100% true by the way
I can also assure you that regardless of what you do or how you vote, you will be criticized.
So thank you for your willingness to get on the field and take on the responsibility of serving the people of our wonderful state.
Teddy Roosevelt said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
…but who actually strives to do the deeds, who spends himself in a worthy cause.”
My friends that is us, hopefully, without the blood.
You have chosen to get into the arena and waged some fierce campaigns to get here.
But the greatness of American democracy is that we compete to win our neighbors trust, but once the election is over, we come together.
Believe me, all your hard work will pay off.
I can assure you serving in the General Assembly will be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.
We take our oaths at a time when government has become a zero sum game, where division is more the rule than compromise. A political contest where players jockey for position, maneuver to take shots and gain advantage.
It shouldn’t be that way. It should be about results. It should be about getting the job done for those who sent us here.
The people of New Jersey have the right to demand we put aside our egos and ambitions and do what is right for them.
Two years ago, we committed to an agenda that put working, middle class New Jerseyans first.
We challenged ourselves to be true to the words of John F Kennedy who inspired a generation of Americans to do things…
… “Not because they are easy… but because they are hard.”
For the past two years, as Speaker, that principal has guided my work.
We succeeded in passing difficult legislation that will improve the affordability and quality of life in New Jersey.
Working with the Governor and the Senate, we succeeded in efforts that had failed for years.
Our very first act was to pass a law that required women be paid the same as men.
We increased the minimum wage, to ease the burden on the working poor.
We passed earned sick leave and expanded family leave to make sure people can take care of themselves and their loved ones without losing their job.
And we didn’t stop there.
We recognize that New Jersey is an expensive place to live – too expensive in fact, so we helped seniors by fully funding the Homestead Rebate and the Senior Freeze Program and making more seniors eligible.
We owe our veterans an eternal debt of gratitude and we passed a ballot question to give all veterans to a property tax credit.
We understand that 800,000 of our neighbors struggle with food insecurity everyday so we increased funding to food pantries,
We increased SNAP benefits
And we passed a package of bills that tackled food insecurity across our state, including on college campuses.
To help school districts control property taxes we increased school funding by $700 million while ensuring that our public schools remain the best in the nation.
We have stood up for the men and women who protect and serve us by passing the Bill Ricci World Trade Center Law and The Thomas Canzanella 21st Century First Responders Protection Act.
We tackled critical healthcare issues like maternal health and infant mortality.
We’ve modernized our state’s medical cannabis program and fought to protect patients with an out-of-network law to reduce surprise billing.
We’ve given organized labor a fighting chance by passing The Workplace Democracy Act.
We have prioritized the air we breathe by investing $600 million dollars in clean energy.
And just yesterday, we passed legislation which commits $30 million dollars a year to encourage the use of electric vehicles.
All of this would not have been possible without the agreement and cooperation of Senate President Sweeney and Governor Murphy.
I commend them for their accomplishments and thank them for their friendship.
We made the Assembly a true and equal partner in government.
We were able to do all this because we did it together.
I’m proud of all we achieved, but in reality it’s merely just a good start because we all know there is so much more to do.
Let’s make the 219th Legislature one that is defined by our willingness to tackle real, hard challenges that make a difference in people’s lives.
Let’s be bold in standing up for the environment.
Let’s invest in water infrastructure and securing our water supply because nothing is more critical than clean drinking water.
Let’s tackle the challenge of providing housing for New Jerseyans who struggle to find an affordable place to live…
Let’s figure out how to make prescription drugs and health care less expensive
And let’s continue our efforts to make New Jersey more affordable.
Let’s help small businesses succeed and create new jobs in our communities.
And let’s double our efforts to make sure no New Jerseyan goes to bed hungry.
No one in this State should worry about where their next meal will come from.
Food insecurity is my personal priority and I am so grateful for all my colleagues support.
Whatever our shared priorities are, I challenge us to be bolder, to be more imaginative and not to just make progress, but to make Real Change!
I know we can do it because we already have.
We’ve succeeded because we kept the needs of the 9 million New Jerseyans who entrusted us to make the rules front and center.
The Mom and Dad in Sayreville sitting at the kitchen table after the kids go to bed pouring over bills and financial aid forms trying out how to pay for college.
The single Mom coming home from her minimum wage job to her one- bedroom apartment and wondering if she will get enough hours to pay the rent.
The Mom or Dad who sends their child off to school, hoping each day that our nation’s epidemic of gun violence doesn’t come to their neighborhood
The commuter who stresses each morning about whether their train will get them to work on time or home for their kid’s game.
The family that goes to the food pantry each week because they don’t have the money to buy groceries.
These families are why we came to public service.
These families give our jobs purpose.
Their needs inspire us and guide us as we begin the 219th session of the legislature.
As I said two years ago, and still is very true today, I am not wise enough or foolish enough to think I have all the answers.
Good ideas come from each of us and that recognition allows us to work together…. to get results for the people we represent.
I am proud of the times throughout my ten years in the Assembly that I have worked with my Democratic colleagues and equally proud of the many times I’ve worked across the aisle with my Republican colleagues.
A commitment to principal and a willingness to work together in compromise is how good legislation gets done.
I’m proud to say over the past two years we have done just that.
Now let’s All do it again!
God bless you, God bless the State of New Jersey and the Unites States of America.