Assemblyman Jay Webber wants to get Gov. Phil Murphy charged with an executive order violation.
“Governor Murphy has placed himself above and beyond his own law, sabotaging his own moral authority,” Webber said. “Is it any wonder then that desperate people of all political stripes in places like Asbury Park and Wayne, with more sure to come, decide to defy the Governor’s orders?”
The governor on Sunday attended Black Lives Matter protests in Hillside and Westfield in defiance of his own executive order, which then barred outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people.
The move drew condemnation from Republicans, who saw the incident as Murphy unevenly enforcing his order. Organizers of anti-lockdown protests in Trenton and elsewhere have been issued summonses for their role in congregations.
Murphy, Webber said, should get himself charged for the violation, as Gov. Jon Corzine and former State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes did in years past.
“Colonel Fuentes and Governor Corzine not only acknowledged their wrongdoing, they held themselves accountable by insisting on citations and punishments,” Webber said. “And then each made sure the public was aware of their taking responsibility, because it was the right thing to do and they knew their continued legal and moral authority as law enforcement officers depended on it.”
Corzine demanded a summons for failing to wear his seatbelt during a 2007 automobile accident, while Fuentes was caught speeding but got off without a ticket after the state trooper that pulled him over realized he had stopped the head of the State Police.
Fuentes reported the incident to the Office of Professional Standards and was issued a summons.
An executive order violation carries a fine of up to $1,000. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, can afford to pay it, and such a move could assuage some of the governor’s critics.
Letting the issue languish could imperil the state’s response to a second surge of COVID-19 cases, said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
“This is not a pot shot on the part of republicans or anybody else that’s making it. This is not a grenade that’s being thrown,” he said. “When somebody doesn’t play by the same rules, it undermines the legitimacy of the rule, and that’s really the concern.”
“I’ve seen it said that this may be the Governor’s sitting on the beach chair at a closed Island Beach State Park while no one else could go moment,” Rasmussen said, referring to Gov. Chris Christie’s use of a state-provided beach house during a government shutdown.
Fuentes and Corzine aren’t the only ones to own up to their legal mistakes.
In 2008, then-State Attorney General Anne Milgram was issued a speeding ticket. Her office announced the ticket, which Milgram paid.
It’s possible that Murphy has waited too long for such a move to have much effect politically. Republicans have dinged him on the protest appearances since Sunday, but even now, paying a fine would lend Murphy credibility down the line.
“I don’t think there’s a wrong time for it. Yes, he’s paid the price,” Rasmussen said, referring to the political toll. “Yes, it may be too late from that point of view, but the next time you have to go back to the well, I think you can say ‘I screwed up, but I made good on it.’”