By John Celock
Pledging a “stronger and fairer New Jersey” Democrat Phil Murphy took office as the Garden State’s fifty sixth governor on Tuesday.
During a midday ceremony in Trenton’s War Memorial, Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany, presented a vision for a progressive New Jersey, including resistance to President Trump and moving away from the policies of his two-term predecessor, Republican Chris Christie. Murphy was sworn-in alongside his running mate, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (D), the first African-American woman to be elected statewide in New Jersey history.
“There is no ambiguity in their mandate,” Murphy said in his inaugural address about the state’s voters. “They voted for a stronger and fairer New Jersey that grows every family. They elected a governor, a lieutenant governor and a Legislature that will carry out this promise.”
Murphy immediately pledged to sign legislation quickly to raise the state’s minimum wage to $!5 an hour, restore funding for Planned Parenthood, guarantee equal pay for women, put in place earned sick leave laws, “reduce barriers to voting” and strengthen the state’s gun laws. He called on lawmakers to send him the bills quickly. Murphy also said that he would sign an executive order to promote equal pay shortly after his inaugural ceremony.
Murphy said he would expand on his full agenda in his budget address next month but said priorities include a tax hike for millionaires, increased funding for public schools, property tax relief, economic development, growth of minority and women owned businesses, increased business growth for veterans, free community college, legalized marijuana, affordable four year colleges, protection of immigrants, affordable housing, housing without lead paint and criminal justice reform. Many were ideas that Murphy outlined during his campaign.
Murphy also said that he would lead the state in opposing Trump and congressional Republicans on a number of issues, including proposals for off shore drilling, immigration policy, changes to health care and tax policy. Murphy joined Christie and U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D) and Cory Booker (D) in signing a letter to Trump earlier this month opposing off shore drilling proposals.
Murphy praised Christie’s work on opioid addiction, pledging to continue the former governor’s work on the issue, which was the signature issue of his second term. Murphy also praised Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, for their focus on balancing family with the governorship. After the praise for his predecessor, Murphy pledged to take the state in a “new direction” and said that voters did not want pessimism and wanted results. He said that New Jersey has had big ideas in the past and would return to doing so.
“We’ll send a loud and clear message that our days of muddling through from crisis to crisis are over,” Murphy said.
Murphy, a Boston area native and Kennedy family fan, took the oath of office on the Bible of President John Kennedy’s mother’s family, the Fitzgeralds. It was the same Bible that Kennedy used to take the presidential oath in 1961. First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy, the inaugural chairwoman, said that it was the first time the Bible had been let out of the Kennedy Library in Boston since the library was built in the 1970s.
The new first lady, her husband’s top advisor, gave an inaugural speech where she spoke about her husband and children, while also outlining the need for the Murphy Administration to focus on the people of the state.
“It is the people who give us our mandate to govern,” Snyder Murphy said. “Our mandate continues as long as we respect the people who gave us that mandate.”
Oliver, a former state Assembly speaker, gave an inaugural address where she outlined her priorities and took pride in being the first African-American woman to win statewide office. Oliver noted that she was taking office the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“It is a reminder that not long ago that in a state that has prided itself in its diversity that it has taken since 1776 to this moment for New Jersey to have a woman of color in statewide elective office,” Oliver said.
Oliver is New Jersey’s second lieutenant governor, following outgoing two term Republican Kim Guadagno, and the second African American to be elected statewide in New Jersey history, following Booker. Oliver is the first African American woman to lead the New Jersey General Assembly and the second African American woman in American history to lead a state legislative chamber.
Oliver focused part of her speech on her new duties as state community affairs commissioner, where she’ll lead a department focused on local government issues, housing, building regulations and fire safety. Oliver, a social worker, said that her priorities in the Department of Community Affairs will include the development of more affordable housing, working closely with local governments, continuing the state’s recovery from Superstorm Sandy and working to end state control of Atlantic City and address issues facing the seaside resort community. Oliver opposed Christie’s state takeover of Atlantic City as a lawmaker.
Guadagno, who lost the 2017 gubernatorial race to Murphy, spent her eight years in office as secretary of state, where she oversaw economic development, tourism, elections, the arts and volunteerism.
Oliver pledged to work closely with lawmakers and Murphy in her new role. A former seven term state legislator, Oliver said that her time in the Legislature was a highlight of her career that “I shall miss.” She said that as a legislator and Assembly speaker she learned from her colleagues about issues effecting the entire state and pledged to bring that background to the lieutenant governor’s office.
“I leaned the importance of all sides of any given issue and that meaning compromising to ensure progress on policy doesn’t mean compromising on principle,” Oliver said of her time in the Assembly. “There is much more that unites us as New Jerseyeans than divides us as partisans.”
Oliver also paid tribute to her native Essex County, noting that with the exception of college it is the only county that she has lived in.
The new lieutenant governor also told her former legislative colleagues that they should not expect her new job to change her personality.
“I will seek to bridge divides but I will not give up my voice where I see division,” Oliver said.
Murphy used his speech to thank many of the leaders in attendance, including all of the state’s living former governors who attended. He also had special praise for former Gov. Brendan Byrne (D), who died 12 days ago. Murphy said that he had the flag that was presented to Byrne’s widow, Ruthi, last week to be flown above the War Memorial to remember the former governor.
Murphy was clear in his speech that the state government he presides over will be different than what New Jersey residents have grown accustomed to over the past eight years.
“We can once again be the state that leads the nation in progressive policies and puts common sense and our residents first in line,” he said.