Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli officially launched his gubernatorial campaign Tuesday, becoming the first Republican to formally declare a challenge to Gov. Phil Murphy.
Ciattarelli’s announcement speech, given to a crowd of more than 200 in the auditorium of a Raritan school Ciattarelli once attended, played heavily on Republican messaging against Murphy, hitting the incumbent on taxes and his progressive priorities.
“We don’t need an out of touch, tone deaf governor like Phil Murphy who says ‘if taxes are your issue, we’re probably not your state,” Ciattarelli said. “Are you Kidding me? Are you Kidding me? The first time I heard that, being from Raritan, there was another word I wanted to put before the word kidding. Here’s the deal. If taxes are your issue, Phil Murphy shouldn’t be your governor.”
The state’s school funding formula is foremost in Ciattarelli’s mind.
He said he intended to work on the issue immediately after being sworn into office in 2022.
“The current formula is still arbitrary, unfair and, in my mind, unconstitutional,” he told reporters in a gaggle following his announcement. “This formula is 12 years old. We need a new formula.”
Ciattarelli wouldn’t rule out drastic measures to tackle the state’s policy issues.
He said he would call a convention to draft a new state constitution — the first in more than 70 years — primarily to tackle issues like school funding and affordable housing.
“Our 1947 state constitution does not fix what’s broken in New Jersey, and we can’t afford any longer to let the courts decide,” Ciattarelli said. “We need a new state constitution to address today’s realities.”
He also pledged to push ballot initiatives and referendums if the Democrat-controlled legislature did not cooperate with him on policy, though it’s unclear how that would circumvent the legislature, as lawmakers must first approve proposed constitutional amendments.
The run for governor is Ciattarelli’s second. He ran in 2017 but lost the Republican nod to then Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
A long and storied line of New Jersey governors failed to win the seat on their first attempt only to secure it on a subsequent run.
A number of prominent Republicans — including GOP chairs from Somerset, Camden, Burlington, Atlantic and Atlantic counties as well as State Sens. Kip Bateman and Kristin Corrado and Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce — attended Ciattarelli’s launch, though few were ready to endorse anyone for governor.
Somerset County Chairman Al Gaburo, Ciattarelli’s childhood friend, and Bateman, the his former runningmate had no such hang-ups.
Those endorsement may help in a primary, but the former assemblyman made clear that Murphy was the endgame.
“None of the things that Murphy supports will make us stronger and fairer. None of the things he supports will fix New Jersey,” Ciattarelli said. “None of the things he supports will help the middle class get ahead or uplift the working poor. In fact, in many cases, his policies only separate us further and drive more people out of New Jersey.”