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State Sen. Ronald L. Rice. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe.

Murphy surprised after reading Rice letter, senator says

Meeting planned between governor, Legislative Black Caucus chairman

By Nikita Biryukov, October 09 2019 5:45 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy was surprised after reading a stinging letter sent by State Sen. Ron Rice that said the state’s Democratic leaders, Murphy included, don’t take New Jersey’s black lawmakers seriously.

“I believe he missed the whole conversation and didn’t really understand what was being said,” Rice said. “At the end of the day, I managed to get him, hopefully, to at least — whether he accepts or not — understand what was being said and why it was being said.”

In his letter, Rice said Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin took black lawmakers and community leaders for granted and had only the pretense of cooperating with them on their policy priorities.

Rice said he and Murphy had spoken about his letter, which the New Jersey Globe published Saturday.

The senator said Murphy expressed his surprise, citing his own policy priorities that involved helping the state’s black residents.

The two have agreed to a meeting, though the specifics around that meeting remain hazy.

“I don’t know when,” Rice said. “Sometime soon because he just got back in town.”

In his letter, Rice wrote legislative leaders were also shrugging off their black members.

He said he’s also had conversations with Sweeney on the matter.

“I’ve had similar conversations with Steve Sweeney, with the Black Caucus, the way they treated Sen. Gill, taking these committees and stuff from her and the way they hounded stuff,” Rice said. “That’s real stuff. I don’t know why they can’t see it’s real, and maybe it’s not offensive to them, but it’s offensive to us.”

In 2014, Sweeney pulled Gill off of the Senate Commerce Committee, where she was chair. Last year, he pulled her off the Judiciary Committee.

Part of the problem, Rice said, is black lawmakers are not taken as seriously as their non-black counterparts.

“If Loretta was to say the same thing I’m saying, they would say ‘ok, can we talk? Let’s fix it.’ With us, ‘wow, you said that? Did you mean that?’ Yes, I mean it, because it’s real, and that’s the difference,” Rice said. “My role and my obligation, morally and spiritually and legally, is to be the voice of conscience the best I can. I’ve tried to do that over the years with integrity.”

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