Home>Governor>Phil Murphy is counting incorrectly, but the reason could make your head hurt

Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General-designate Matt Platkin on February 3, 2022. (Photo: Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office).

Phil Murphy is counting incorrectly, but the reason could make your head hurt

The New Jersey Globe says Matt Platkin is the 56th attorney general because we don’t count colonial AGs

By David Wildstein, September 29 2022 3:35 pm

Matt Platkin is the 56th person to serve as Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, even though Gov. Phil Murphy keeps incorrectly stating that he is the 62nd.

The official list counts the seven Colonial Attorneys General who served before 1776, and only counts Aaron Woodruff (1792-1811 and 1812-1817), who served two non-consecutive terms as one attorney general.

The Murphy administration begins their list of attorneys general with Alexander Griffith, who served from 1704 to 1714 as the appointee of Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury and the first Colonial AG.   The New Jersey Globe roster starts with William Paterson, who served from 1776 to 1783.

New Jersey consider William Livingston to be the first governor; he took office in 1776 and appointed Paterson.

But if the same rules were applied and the list of governors began with Lord Cornbury in 1701 and including seventeen colonial governor, then Murphy would be the New Jersey’s 73rd governor and not the 56th.

That doesn’t include more than two dozen governors who served when the east coast was under control of the Dutch, Sweden and England going back to 1624.

The Grover Cleveland Rule

New Jersey also has its own way of counting the number of governors and doesn’t follow the Grover Cleveland Rule.

If New Jersey followed the Grover Cleveland Rule, Murphy would be the 63rd Governor and not the 56th.

The New Jersey-born Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.  That’s because he lost re-election to Benjamin Harrison., the 23rd President, in 1888 and won the presidency back in an 1892 rematch.

New Jersey has had six governors elected to non-consecutive terms – until the new State Constitution was adopted in 1947, governors were limited to a single three-year term.  One of them, A. Harry Moore, was elected in 1925, 1931 and 1937.

But New Jersey counts the number of governors by those who served.  If the state followed the Grover Cleveland rule, then Peter Vroom, who was elected in 1828 and again in 1833, would be considered the 9th and 12th governor.  But Vroom is considered only the 9th governor, following both the 8th and the 11th.

(Between the State Constitutions of 1776 and 1844, New Jersey governors were elected by the state legislature.)

Under the Grover Cleveland Rule, Daniel Haines – elected in 1843 and again in 1848 — is considered to be the 14th governor, but he might actually be the 15th and 17th governors.

That would make Joel Parker the 22nd and 25th governors; but was viewed as the 20th when he took office for the first time in 1863.  Parker returned to the governorship in 1872, following Marcus Ward and Theodore Fitz Randolph.

Leon Abbett was elected in 1883 and again in 1889; that should make him the 29th and 31st governors, but history regards him as the 26th.  Walter Edge, elected in 1916 and again in 1943 – he served as a U.S. Senator and Ambassador to France in between – is considered the 36th governor.  The New Jersey Globe pegs him as the 40th and the 49th.

Moore, who served in the U.S. Senate in between his second and third stints as governor, is probably the 43rd, 45th and 47th governor even though he’s viewed as 39th.

Following the Grover Cleveland Rule, Murphy is actually the 63rd Governor of New Jersey and not the 56th.

The DiFrancesco and Codey Law

In 2007, Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny, Jr. (D-Hoboken) and Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) co-sponsored a law that designated acting governors who served for more than six months as full governors.  That was retroactive to 2001 to include Donald DiFrancesco and Richard Codey.

DiFrancesco succeeded Christine Todd Whitman, who resigned on January 31, 2001 to join President George W. Bush’s cabinet and served until January 15, 2002.  After James E. McGreevey resigned on November 15, 2004, Codey became governor and held the post until January 17, 2006.

As a result of the new law, two governors actually saw their numbers change after they took office.

McGreevey was initially inaugurated as the 51st governor in 2002, but now DiFrancesco is the 51st and McGreevey the 52nd.  Corzine was the 52nd governor when he took office in 2006, but the new law made him the 54th.

New Jersey has had a large number of acting governors, sometimes non-consecutively.  Since governors were not constitutionally permitted to succeed themselves, sometimes they had to step down just to get their jobs back.

Example: after Gov. Woodrow Wilson was became President of the United States, Senate President James Fielder (D-Jersey City) became the acting governor.  He also became the Democratic nominee for governor in 1913, so he resigned as acting governor on October 28, just before Election Day.  Next in the line of succession was Assembly Speaker Leon Taylor (D-Asbury Park), who turned 30 just two days earlier.  (The New Jersey Constitution requires governors to be at least 30).  Taylor was acting governor for 84 days when Fielder, who won the general election, became the state’s 35th governor.

The Acting Attorneys General

Judith Yaskin was the first woman to serve as acting attorney general of New Jersey. (Photo: Department of Environmental Protection).

While the attorney general’s office lists two acting attorneys general on their historical list, John Jay Hoffman (2013 to 2016) and Robert Lougy (2016),  they don’t include five other acting attorneys general on  their list:

* Harold Kolovsky, a former chief counsel to Gov. Robert Meyner who was the interim attorney general for about five months in 1958 before his nomination as a Superior Court Judge.

* Judith Yaskin, who served for 21 days in 1981 in between the resignation of John Degnan (who ran for governor that year) and the confirmation of James Zazzali.   She was the first woman to occupy the attorney general’s office.  She later served as Gov. Jim Florio’s Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

* Donald Belsole, who spent 36 days in office between Cary Edwards’ resignation to run for governor in 1989 and Peter Perrett’s confirmation.

* Frederick DeVesa became the acting attorney general when Robert DelTufo left in August and served for the last 146 days of the Florio administration.

* Paul Zoubek was the acting attorney general for 22 days in 1999, between the time Peter Verniero resigned to become a Supreme Court Justice and the confirmation John Farmer, Jr.

Anne Milgram became acting attorney general in 2006 after Zulima Farber resigned following a “Do You Know Who I Am” motor vehicle incident.  She served for 25 days until Stuart Rabner took over.  After Rabner became chief justice in 2007, Gov. Jon Corzine nominated her to hold the post on a permanent basis.

Editor’s note: the New Jersey Globe does not view Joseph Bloomfield as having served non-consecutive terms.  He served from 1801 to 1802, but when the legislature deadlocked on re-electing him, John Lambert took over for one day until Bloomfield secured his office.

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