Today is Phil Murphy’s 19th day in office and the end of his third week. This is where the honeymoon period begins to deteriorate. Private conversations with members of his administration and party leaders paint a picture of a governor who is struggling beneath the surface of a once-a-day photo op. Democratic legislators complain that they don’t get courtesy calls. Democratic party leaders are angered by slow responses to their requests. Reporters are already bitching about their lack of access, forcing them to fondly remember first term of the last governor. Worst of all: reports of serious infighting among Murphy’s senior staff is a sign of growing dysfunction within his administration.
The complaints about Murphy are all insider issues. He’s been exceptionally strong at playing to his own base – this week on environmental issue: he signed executive orders directing the state to reenter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin; withdrew from a red-state lawsuit against the EPA; and opposed federal expansion of offshore drilling. Real voters see no sign of weakness.
But the insider issues matter in the early days of he administration. He’s in a fight with building trades boss Bill Mullen over the appointment of an economic development official with an anti-prevailing wage record — and Mullen is not a guy a governor wants to fight with. And except for Gurbir Grewal, an early star of the Murphy administration, the governor has been unable to get the Democratic-controlled State Senate to confirm his cabinet picks.
One more thing: Murphy is spending the weekend in Virginia and was in Washington, D.C. last weekend – so he’s been away for two of the three weekends of his term. That’s something members of Murphy’s own party would have criticized the last governor for doing.