Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin today stepped up his criticism of a dark-money group with ties to Gov. Phil Murphy, comparing New Direction New Jersey to Republican extremist groups that eventually led to Donald Trump winning the presidency and said Democrats don’t have purity tests.
“I have continued reading with dismay emails sent by New Direction New Jersey, an organization with which you are closely aligned,” Coughlin told Murphy in a personal letter obtained by the New Jersey Globe. “The rhetoric this group uses against fellow Democrats is beyond the pale – especially since the insults directed our way revolve around an area of disagreement over policy and do not merit the personal vitriol directed at members of my caucus.”
Coughlin says the Legislature’s disagreement with Murphy on “a few policy issues” is “no secret,” but says Assembly Democrats agree with him on “many more, including on the fact that we passed a budget that strengthens New Jersey’s working families.
“That is why you recently said that, ‘This budget is another down payment on our commitment to the middle class and all those aspiring to get there,’” Coughlin told the governor. “Despite your support, I am puzzled that New Direction continues to savage my members in advance of our election.”
New Direction New Jersey is a non-profit group run by former campaign aides to Murphy and was set up after the 2017 gubernatorial election to advocate for Murphy’s agenda.
Murphy appears in the group’s television commercials and had acknowledged raising money for the non-profit.
Last week, Coughlin slammed the group for an unsigned e-mail accusing Democrats of passing a “scam budget” that “screws working people in our state.”
“The Democratic Party I know has never been subject to the kind of purity test New Direction is encouraging today. We pride ourselves on being a big tent, not on being the Tea Party,” said Coughlin. “In fact, it was the unrelenting rhetoric of Republican extremists against more moderate members of the Republican Party that led to the nomination of Donald Trump and to historic Republican losses in the 2018 midterm elections. That is not what any of us would like to see replicated in our own party in New Jersey this year and in the years ahead.”
Coughlin asked Murphy how he will deal with other Democratic governors who have policy differences with him when he becomes chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association next year.
“I assume that you would not allow the DGA or New Direction to savage those gubernatorial candidates with whom you disagree,” Coughlin said.
According to the Speaker, Murphy’s affiliation with New Direction NJ allows him to “intervene on behalf of Assembly members under attack.”
“Doing so will help foster unity within our party, which will serve all of us in the long run,” said Coughlin. “I am sure that a Republican legislature will not give you 95% of what you want in any future budget.”
Democrats are seeking to protect their 54-26 majority in the State Assembly, with Republicans competing making a play for eight of those seats. Assembly Democrats are also contending to pick up six or eight seats in districts currently represented by Republican legislators.
“My job is to elect as many Democrats as possible this November. It is something I take very seriously,” Coughlin told Murphy. “Your resources, and the resources of New Direction would be much better spent in ensuring that we strengthen our Democratic majority this fall, not in wasting money on advertisements to weaken it.”
Earlier today, in response to a question from the Globe, Murphy declined to say Tuesday whether any of the Democratic legislators up for re-election this year shouldn’t be returned to