Murphy Chips at Christie’s Legacy on Energy, Marijuana, Health

  • Democrat is undoing Republican’s eight years order by order
  • Rallying state to take on Trump’s belief in ‘decline, carnage’

Chris Christie’s business-friendly, law-and-order Republican politics left New Jersey liberals in the cold for eight years. The Democrat who replaced him as governor is dismantling that agenda in a warm-up to tough fiscal fights.

Less than a month into his term, Phil Murphy has ordered reviews of medical-marijuana rules, allied with other states opposing fracking and offshore drilling and rejoined an emissions-control program Christie withdrew from in 2011. In coming weeks, Murphy says, he’ll restore $7.5 million in women’s health-care funding vetoed annually by his predecessor, and rescind a Christie policy that eased handgun rules.

Phil Murphy

Photographer: Julio Cortez/AP Photo

It’s more than campaign promises kept: Murphy is amassing political capital among fellow Democrats who aren’t sold on his plan to raise $1.3 billion in taxes, even if the proceeds benefit education and other core initiatives. A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. senior director and U.S. ambassador to Germany, his leadership is based on consensus -- no small change in Trenton, where Christie gained YouTube infamy for castigating opponents.

“I doubt you’re going to see Phil Murphy steamroll someone, or tell them to shut up or sit down,” said former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a 2004 presidential candidate who recruited Murphy to be finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “What you get with a Christie style is no goodwill, so you have no reservoir when things go wrong.”

Failed Campaign

Christie took office in 2010 as New Jersey’s recession was at its peak. He became a national figure after clashes with labor unions, spending cuts and vetoing tax increases. During his third year, his approval surged to more than 70 percent for his leadership recovering from Hurricane Sandy, the state’s costliest natural disaster.

After his re-election, Christie spent much of his second term out of state on an ill-fated 2016 run for president. Back home, the most pressing matters -- the nation’s highest property taxes and the least-funded pension system -- worsened as one-time Democratic allies, stung by broken promises, refused to work with him.

Residents Leave

While states such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon drew newcomers to high-paying jobs, relaxed drug laws and good public transportation, New Jersey for five straight years led the nation in residents moving away. To Christie, marijuana tax revenue was “blood money.” Even as he offered billions of dollars in corporate-tax breaks, he financially starved New Jersey Transit, whose commuter railroad now has the most accidents and safety fines among its peers. He left office Jan. 16 with 15 percent approval.

Murphy campaigned on economic strength, with appeals to majority voters who lean liberal on the environment, reproductive rights, gender identity, immigration and gun control. Those voters also are key to the Democrats’ domination in the legislature -- and New Jersey’s willingness to fight policies set by Republican President Donald Trump, whom Christie endorsed after he dropped out of the 2016 race.

“We must reject President Trump’s dark belief of an America in decline and in carnage,” Murphy, 60, said in his inauguration speech. So far, he’s announced plans to join multistate lawsuits challenging Trump’s authority on the tax code, Internet neutrality, immigration and transgender people in the military.

Women’s Rights

Hours after his swearing-in, Murphy’s first act was to ban agencies from inquiring about potential hires’ pay histories, a step to bring women’s compensation in line with men’s. The order was hardly a watershed -- it’s not in effect among private companies, which employ 85 percent of the state’s workers, and it can be rescinded by another governor. The signing had symbolic weight, though, as the governor was surrounded by Democratic legislative leaders, union officials and women’s rights activists he had courted during the campaign.

“Chris Christie, particularly in his second term when his presidential aspirations took over, was not representative of the state he was governing,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Teaneck Democrat who was at the event. “Phil Murphy is much more representative of the people of New Jersey.”

Millionaire’s Tax

Christie, now a television commentator, didn’t respond to a request for comment sent via Twitter. ABC News’s press office didn’t return a request for Christie to contact Bloomberg. Brian Murray, who was Christie’s spokesman while he was in office, said he no longer speaks for the ex-governor and declined to provide his contact information.

More liberal parts of Murphy’s agenda may have a hard time even among fellow Democrats. A group of black lawmakers wants hearings on how a change in pot laws could affect drug use and crime. Senate President Steve Sweeney, who championed a millionaire’s tax when Murphy was running, now says he’s not completely committed, on concerns that the federal cap on state and local deductions was incentive enough for wealthy New Jerseyans to leave.

The new governor also will see a fight on his $15 minimum-wage proposal, according to Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick, a Republican from Westfield.

“The first launch of his policy career is through executive orders,” Bramnick said in an interview. “Soon we’ll see how his policies are affected by the legislature.”

Climate Change

Among New Jersey environmental groups, Christie was endorsed by just one for his 2009 campaign against incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine. The New Jersey Environmental Federation later said it regretted backing him; for his re-election campaign it gave him a D grade on clean energy, climate change and drinking water.

Murphy already has gone against Christie by rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; ordering up an offshore wind-energy plan; and joining Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania to support a ban on fracking, which blasts water, sand and chemicals underground to release trapped oil and natural gas.

Though Murphy’s orders are only openers to a long process of rulemaking, they’re a step in the right direction, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Phil Murphy has done more to move the environment ahead in one week than Chris Christie did in eight years,” Tittel said.

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