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Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan was nominated by Gov. Phil Murphy as the new Commissioner of Education on October 20, 2020. (Photo: Edwin Torres/Governor’s Office).

Checking in on Murphy’s cabinet nominations as 2022 ends

Walsh, Allen-McMillan both remain acting commissioners years after being nominated

By Joey Fox, December 06 2022 5:06 pm

The number of acting members of Gov. Phil Murphy’s cabinet was slashed this year, with the State Senate approving four cabinet nominees for full terms. Two other nominees, however, remain unconfirmed, and they’ll likely soon be joined by a third.

Two of the nominees confirmed this year, Secretary of State Tahesha Way and Attorney General Matt Platkin, hold jobs that need to be renominated every gubernatorial term. (All other cabinet roles can be held indefinitely once initially confirmed, though new governors usually evict most if not all of their predecessors’ cabinet members.)

Way, who has led the State Department since the beginning of Murphy’s first term, was renominated for another four-year term and confirmed unanimously by the Senate in June.

Platkin, on the other hand, is a newcomer, replacing former acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck, who himself replaced former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in June 2021. Murphy chose Platkin, his former chief counsel, from a shortlist of four candidates in February, and Platkin was confirmed on a mostly party-line 24-10 vote in September.

The other two newly confirmed cabinet members, Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman and Corrections Commissioner Victoria Kuhn, were confirmed this spring after serving as acting commissioners for a prolonged period. (Unlike in the state judiciary, where a large number of vacancies continues to hobble day-to-day operations, cabinet nominees can serve in an acting capacity even if they haven’t been confirmed by the Senate.)

Adelman took over the Department of Human Services in January 2021 when former Commissioner Carole Johnson left state government to join the Biden administration, while Kuhn became Corrections Commissioner in June 2021 after former Commissioner Marcus Hicks resigned due to the fallout from the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility sexual abuse scandal. Adelman and Kuhn were confirmed in March and May, respectively, both with no opposition.

As for the remaining unconfirmed nominees, two have been languishing without confirmation for several years – both due to senatorial courtesy, which allows state senators to block gubernatorial nominees from their home districts and counties. 

Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan was nominated in October 2020 and nearly got a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2021. Her nomination was derailed, however, after the New Jersey Globe reported that she had moved to Cedar Grove but had not gotten confirmation from her new state senator, State Sen. Kristen Corrado (R-Totowa).

Thanks to that saga, Allen-McMillan may never be able to drop the “acting” from her title; Corrado said in June that she had no plans to give Allen-McMillan courtesy in the “foreseeable future.”

Acting Comptroller Kevin Walsh has been stuck in limbo even longer. First nominated by Murphy in January 2020, Walsh has been unable to secure senatorial courtesy from State Sens. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Barrington) and James Beach (D-Voorhees), neither of whom has said why they won’t sign off on Walsh’s nomination.

Finally, there’s Allison Chris Myers, who is slated to replace Deirdré Webster Cobb as chair of the Civil Service Commission.

In an announcement yesterday, Murphy said that Myers would become acting chair on January 1, 2023 – making her the first transgender cabinet member in New Jersey history – but he hasn’t yet said if he’ll nominate her on a permanent basis. If he does, Myers will have to get courtesy from State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland) before she can come before the Senate for confirmation.

One important non-cabinet level nominee, former Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-Medford) for the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), is also stalled; the chair of the BPU is a cabinet-level position, though individual commissioners are not. Rodriguez-Gregg and former Somerset Democratic vice chair Zenon Christodoulou were nominated to the BPU at the same time in May, but while Christodoulou was confirmed by the Senate in August, Rodriguez-Gregg still has yet to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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