Nearly a third of Gov. Phil Murphy’s cabinet members intend to leave the administration or are in their positions on an acting basis, with some awaiting confirmation and others awaiting the nomination of a permanent agency head.
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Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen McMillan is also awaiting confirmation after a move into Cedar Grove earlier this year unexpectedly gave State Sen. Kristin Corrado courtesy over her nomination.
Senatorial courtesy is an unwritten but immutable rule that allows senators to indefinitely block gubernatorial nominations from their home county. They aren’t required to give a reason.
Several other agencies have temporary chiefs installed while the administration searches for permanent replacements.
Victoria Kuhn, who was chief of staff to ousted Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks, now holds her former boss’s job in an acting capacity while the front office conducts a national search for a replacement to reform the state’s troubled prisons.
Sarah Adelman has been acting commissioner of Human Services since Carole Johnson left her post to join the Biden administration in January. No permanent head has been nominated in the nearly six months since Johnson’s resignation.
Former CIA official Laurie Doran is temporarily heading the office of Homeland Security and Preparedness following Jared Maples’ departure for a job at the National Hockey League.
Motor Vehicle Commission Chief Administrator Sue Fulton is awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate to serve as Assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Finally, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal will leave state government to helm enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission next week. First Assistant Attorney General Andrew Bruck will hold Grewal’s position on an interim basis and serve until the expiration of Grewal’s term in January.
It’s not likely any of the above individuals or their replacements, announced or not, will be confirmed before the election. That means eight of the 25 cabinet-level posts are slated to have non-permanent leadership for the next four months, if not longer.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) have both said they don’t plan to return to the chamber until after November’s races.
Gov. Phil Murphy has a nuclear option to force a confirmation vote, assuming senatorial courtesy isn’t the active roadblock in a given nomination. He can call the legislature in for a special session, though it’s not likely the governor would be willing to risk straining legislative relationships that were tense for the first half of his term in office.
If he were, he’d be doing it for little gain. Agency heads performing their duties in an acting capacity aren’t hampered by the temporary designation.
It could also open the front office up to retaliation. Acting heads to get voted down by the full Senate must vacate their post, so Sweeney could oust some members of Murphy’s cabinet if he finds the votes.
That’s not likely to happen for the same reasons — all 120 seats of the legislature are up for re-election this year. Fighting publicly with the man at the top of the ticket would likely help Republicans, with few electoral benefits for the majority party.
There is something of a silver lining for Murphy, however thin. All but one of the 17 members of the governor’s cabinet won’t have to be reconfirmed if he wins a second term.
The exception is Secretary of State Tahesha Way. In New Jersey, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General nominated for a term concurrent with that of the governor. That means Way’s expires at the end of Murphy’s first term. It’s not clear whether the governor would put her back in charge of the state agency tasked with, among other things, overseeing New Jersey’s elections.
One more oddity of the governor’s cabinet: the Secretary of Agriculture is elected by the State Board of Agriculture.