Sheila Oliver has been unusually active in her role as acting governor over the last week.
In the past six days, Oliver has held three press availabilities. That’s half of all the press availabilities she has held as acting governor since last Halloween.
“I don’t think there’s any specific reason,” Oliver’s Communications Director Gina Trish said. “I think that the decision is made based on the content of the actual conference — so what the subject or topic of conversation is and whether or not it’s something that warrants or requires the press to ask questions or whether there’s even particular interest.”
On Tuesday, morning Oliver held a press conference on the signing of bills increasing transparency behind student loans and creating an ombudsman for the same.
On Monday, the acting governor announced a series of grants through the Department of Community Affairs, where she is commissioner.
On Thursday, she signed a bill banning companies from asking for a prospective employee’s salary history.
“She’s acting in her capacity as governor, and a lot of the time, answering questions from press is in line with that, and I think she’s getting more comfortable in that role,” Gov. Phil Murphy’s Press Secretary Alyana Alfaro Post said. “She’s been acting a few times now, so I think it’s a natural thing for her to take questions, especially if the topics are something that she’s very familiar with, particularly DCA grants, things like that. And she’s been such a proponent of higher education that, today, this is something she wanted to talk about.”
The increased activity could be a boon to Murphy, who won’t return from a family vacation in Italy and take helm of the state until Aug. 7.
“I think it’s a good thing for her, and I think it’s a good thing for a governor and an administration that chose her as his running mate,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute. “I think it highlights their partnership, and as a governor who is sometimes seen as going it alone in Trenton, it can only be a positive to highlight his political allies — his running mate and the fact that she’s standing in for him as his partner in Trenton.”
So far in his tenure, Murphy has feuded with fellow Democrats in the legislature over a number of his policy priorities, foremost among which is the millionaire’s tax.
Oliver, a former Assembly Speaker who has not severed her ties to her colleagues in the legislature, has taken a backseat in the budget negotiations around the issue, at least publicly.
The lieutenant governor’s schedule and comfort level on any given issue will affect how often she’s out answering reporters’ questions, Rasmussen said, but it might serve Murphy well to put her in front of reporters more often.
“Let’s remember that this is an elected official who Gov. Murphy picked to be his running mate. He has a very high comfort level with her, presumably, and they should want her to be out there,” Rasmussen said. “They clearly viewed her as an asset electorally, so they should want her to be out there.”