Murphy Sworn In as New Jersey Governor

Updated on
  • Phil Murphy is a Democrat whose party leads the legislature
  • Eight years of Christie end with troubled finances untamed

Surrounded by his family, New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, right, takes the oath of office during a ceremony in Trenton, N.J., on Jan. 16. 

Photographer: Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Philip Dunton Murphy was sworn in as New Jersey’s 56th governor, vowing to support Democratic policies blocked for the past eight years by his Republican predecessor, measures that would put the state in the vanguard of resistance in a Trump-dominated era.

As one of only eight U.S. states with Democrats controlling the executive branch as well as the legislative, Murphy will have a greater ability than most governors to enact his agenda and push back against Republican President Donald Trump, much as California is defining itself as an oasis of obstinacy. 

Murphy, 60, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. senior director, pledged to increase public-school funding, provide free access to community college, legalize marijuana and ensure the wealthiest pay “their fair share” in taxes. He promised to acknowledge climate change, to support women’s and gay rights, to oppose cuts to health care and infrastructure and to fight offshore drilling. He spoke of how diversity would strengthen his cabinet.

“America strikes back,” Murphy said.

Record Low

Murphy spent $22.5 million of his own and in November defeated Christie’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, to replace the first Republican voted to the state’s highest office in a dozen years. Once among the nation’s most popular Republicans, Christie, 55, had a presidential bid derailed by the George Washington Bridge traffic-jam scandal. He left office the least popular New Jersey governor in 20 years of Quinnipiac University polling, with 15 percent job approval.

Christie has boasted of vetoing tax increases, including five rejections of a millionaires tax, as well as gun-control measures and funding for women’s reproductive health. He opposed legal marijuana, killed a bill in 2012 to allow same-sex marriage and cut school funding while lowering business taxes.

Busy Finale

During his final days, Christie signed more than 100 bills, including measures that boosted pensions for some elected officials and pledged billions of dollars of tax credits if Inc. builds its second headquarters in the state. He also packed authorities and boards with his outgoing aides and Cabinet members, filling vacancies to which Murphy could have named Democrats. And he issued clemency to 26 people -- doubling the total clemencies over his two terms -- including a woman convicted of homicide.

Murphy, a Boston-area native and married father of four, credited Democrats John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy, for instilling his belief in social justice. The Bible on which he took the oath was used for the swearing-in of John Kennedy as president in 1960.

Two hours after taking the oath, Murphy packed his outer office with hundreds of supporters to witness his first official act: signing an executive order to bar agencies from asking prospective employees about salary history in order to encourage parity for women. He declined to answer questions from reporters, leaving media aides to explain the order’s particulars.

Lingering Woes

Murphy has said that Christie’s pursuit of the presidency left the state of 9 million leaderless, with a broken mass-transportation network, the nation’s worst-funded pension system and highest property taxes.

During Murphy’s Tuesday speech in Trenton, he praised Christie for combating opioid addiction and for setting an example of how to be a parent in the public eye.

Behind him on stage were cabinet nominees chosen not only for their expertise, but also for their insight as members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities. His choices, he said, reflect the population of one of the nation’s most diverse states. They include the first Sikh-American attorney general, the first African-American to lead the New Jersey National Guard, the first Latina to lead the banking department and the second woman treasurer.

High Taxes

Murphy made overtures to the working poor, like his own family growing up, and held up his education at Harvard University and the Wharton School of Business as examples of redemption via hard work and student loans. He promised to return New Jersey to a position of leadership on progressive politics and environmental protection, and appealed to those considering fleeing its property taxes and other hardships.

“I commit to you: Many years from now, when you look back, planting your flag in New Jersey will have been one of the smartest decisions you ever made,” he said.

Murphy pledged a budget “that is balanced fiscally and morally.” He asked lawmakers to send him bills to support women’s health, tighten gun laws, raise the minimum wage and assure every worker earns sick leave.

Some parts of Murphy’s agenda already may be in trouble.

The new governor has promised to institute a millionaires tax and to legalize and tax recreational marijuana to help raise $1.3 billion in revenue. Senate President Steve Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat who controls bills posted in the legislature’s upper house, has rolled back his support for the millionaires levy, saying federal tax changes may make it too burdensome.

Murphy’s promise to legalize pot also faces resistance. At Paradise Baptist Church in Newark on Monday, where Murphy appeared for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day service, Bishop Jethro James Jr. brought the crowd to its feet when he said sales would devastate poor neighborhoods.

On a federal level, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking to crack down on marijuana while lawmakers from both parties, including New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker, are pushing legislation that would do the opposite.

New Jersey is among the states hardest hit by Trump’s tax overhaul. State lawmakers also oppose administration plans to open the Atlantic coast to oil and gas exploration.

The state must “resist Washington’s all-out assault on New Jersey,” Murphy said.

“The current and unrelenting assault on our values will not stand, and we will combat it with every available means,” Murphy said. “We did not ask for this fight, but it is one that we must -- and we will -- take on.”

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