Gov.-elect Phil Murphy still hasn’t named his Commissioner of Education, a pick that will likely create a problem for him – either with the State Senate President or the state’s largest teacher’s union. It’s a tough spot for the incoming governor, which is probably why announcement is taking so long.
The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) spent $5 million last fall in a bid to take out Steve Sweeney. Sweeney’s out for blood, and Murphy has already severely damaged his relationship with the Senate boss by putting NJEA president Marie Blistan on his transition team and appearing with the NJEA leadership days after the election.
The word is that Blistan’s early endorsement of Murphy came with an agreement that the union will play an inside role in picking the new Education Commissioner. That sets up Murphy to either break his word to an enormously powerful union, or to make his relationship with Sweeney exponentially worse.
The reality is that Sweeney can stop any Murphy nomination at the door of the New Jersey State Senate. He can either refuse to hold a confirmation vote – like he did when Gov. Chris Christie dumped sitting state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace – or use his own considerable influence to ensure that Murphy’s pick loses a Senate confirmation vote. That’s tougher ask for Sweeney, who would then draw his caucus members individually into his fight.
The end game is that Murphy makes his pick, Sweeney refuses an up-or-down vote, and New Jersey has an Acting Commissioner of Education for whatever time it takes to come up with a deal to fix the relationship.