Home>Highlight>Stomping Grounds: Governor’s budget address, Murphy for President, Sweeney comeback, and Jimmy Carter

Stomping Grounds: Governor’s budget address, Murphy for President, Sweeney comeback, and Jimmy Carter

By David Wildstein, February 24 2023 9:09 am

New Jerseyans aren’t always civil, but it’s still possible for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to have a rational and pleasant conversation about politics in the state.  Dan Bryan is a former senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy and is now the owner of his own public affairs firm, and Alex Wilkes is an attorney and former executive director of America Rising PAC who advises Republican candidates in New Jersey and across the nation.  Dan and Alex are both experienced strategists who are currently in the room where high-level decisions are made.  They will get together weekly with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.

Question: Governor Murphy will address a joint session of the Legislature next week to deliver his annual budget address.  What should New Jerseyans expect to hear?

Dan Bryan: When Governor Murphy first ran for office, he said he would ramp the state up to a full pension payment, fully fund schools, increase funding for transportation, and fully fund women’s healthcare, all while making the wealthy to pay their fair share, and without broad based tax hikes on middle class New Jerseyans. His ability to enact and fund this agenda was called “extremely unlikely” by editorial boards and political columnists. He was met with skepticism and cynicism by most of the professional class in Trenton.

The rest, of course, is history. New Jersey is now making full pension payments on a routine basis. We will soon finish the ramp up to fully funding our schools, delivering billions more in education funding that both strengthens our schools and drives down property taxes. Our economy is booming, and credit ratings agencies have already begun issuing rating upgrades for New Jersey’s newfound fiscal responsibility.

So to directly answer your question, I think New Jerseyans should expect to see another budget continuing the work done with his first five budgets, making historic investments in education, transportation, the pension, property tax relief, and middle class working families. And for Governor Murphy to continue to do the things he was told were impossible before he took office.

Alex Wilkes: I think that Governor Murphy will once again present a picture of a state that spends beyond its means, particularly when you take one-time Biden Bucks out of the equation, and a Party that offers no major structural changes that will make day-to-day living more affordable for the average New Jerseyan.

If you want to see something that would offer real relief to us, check out the plan put forward by Leader DiMaio and the Assembly Republicans. Under this formula, state aid would be used to reduce property tax burdens for municipalities while also making sure that each school district is adequately funded. A 7% reduction in your property tax bill in the first year alone? Now that’s something worth talking about.

Question: In a story suggesting that President Biden “no longer seems absolutely certain to go for a second term,” POLITICO wrote that three Democratic governors, including Governor Murphy,  have taken steps that could be seen as aimed at keeping the door cracked if Biden bows out — though with enough ambiguity to give them plausible deniability.”  Do you agree with that assessment?

Alex: I mean, I think you have to think that when you wake up to the Governor of New Jersey shaking hands in Kyiv one morning, right?

The one part I might disagree with as it applies to Phil Murphy is that I think his efforts have been pretty thinly (clumsily, I might say) disguised so far.

At every turn of the news cycle, Murphy is constantly searching for a way to slap together a haphazard response that’s designed to generate headlines. Setting aside my disdain for his policies, I just see someone who doesn’t lead news cycles, but rather, strives for relevancy in the moment without an eye towards a larger strategy.

A recent example? He responded to Governor DeSantis’ critique of the College Board and materials in Advanced Placement classes with a dishonest soundbite about the Florida Governor and a promise to expand AP African American History courses in New Jersey. One obvious vulnerability I spotted in reading through the coverage of the initiative (and one that his primary competitors will surely see, as well): why were the courses not offered in the first place in some of the largest school districts? In Phil Murphy’s “Stronger and Fairer” New Jersey, he did nothing to promote these courses until a Governor over 1,000 miles away raised an issue, and in a sprint to make a headline, Murphy has now called attention to that fact. Sloppy AND disingenuous.

Dan Bryan: President Biden is running for reelection.

It’s not surprising to see the national press putting Governor Murphy in that conversation, given his profile as chair of both the Democratic Governors Association and National Governors Association. He first developed a national profile due to his stellar response to COVID-19, having used local, state, and national press to communicate with constituents about the pandemic. And there’s no doubt he has an excellent story to tell about turning around New Jersey.

But I’ll say it again, for those in the back: President Biden is running for reelection. And Governor Murphy will be there with him every step of the way to ensure he is reelected.

Question: With a Republican Senate primary between Ed Durr and Mickey Ostrum, the 3rd district could be one of the best chances for Democrats to flip a State Senate seat.  Should Steve Sweeney try to reclaim his seat, or is it time for Democrats to find a fresh face?

Dan: I don’t know what former Senator Sweeney’s plans are, but Democrats are rightfully prioritizing holding the swing districts that allow for their current legislative majorities. New Jersey Democrats have now held both chambers for 20 years and counting, a record that speaks not only to the party’s inherent strength but also to the weakness of the modern Republican party in New Jersey.

The upcoming midterm elections are critical – not only have Democrats been in power in both legislative chambers for the past 20 years, they’ve held the Governorship for the past six. Any incumbent party with that level of success will face headwinds in a low-turnout midterm election. But a combination of strong candidates on the Democratic side, weak GOP candidate recruitment (New Jersey voters know that good is good, and bad is bad), shaky fundraising on the Republican side, a strong state and national economy, and a popular legislative agenda will ensure New Jersey enters the 2025 cycle with a Democratic trifecta in Trenton.

Alex: I think that that district is part of a larger, downward political trend for the Democrats that transcends any one cycle. Democrats have simply abandoned working-class voters in recent years, and we saw that breaking point for LD3 in 2021.

Steve Sweeney was able to keep up the pro-worker, moderate façade until the rubber met the road during the pandemic. When the people in his district really needed someone to stand up to Phil Murphy while he was shuttering businesses and closing down schools, Steve Sweeney was nowhere to be found. He and the caucus that he once led rolled over completely (no hearings, no check on emergency powers, etc.) to a power-crazed Phil Murphy. Guess what? Voters noticed, and he paid in a big way.

Question: Jimmy Carter has returned to spend his final days in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.  Since the two of you were born in the decade after he left the White House, do you remember when you first heard of President Carter, and what were your early impressions of his presidency?

Dan: Honestly, other than references in pop culture, I don’t remember much about President Carter from my youth (born in ’83). But after watching the American Experience documentary on him a number of years ago, one thing has always stuck with me. President Carter was proud to be the only American president since World War Two not to drop a bomb during his presidency.

He may be remembered by historians as a better man than he was a President, but there’s no doubt that he is a good, decent, honorable American who wanted nothing more than to serve his country as best he could. I hope he and his family find peace in these final days. Now it’s time to finally get around to reading “His Very Best.”

Alex: First, I want to say how sorry I was to hear this news. I may not have agreed with his policies, but he is a good man, and I admire both his faith and his wonderful, 77-year-long marriage to Mrs. Carter.

My honest answer to David’s question? Please don’t hate me; I am really not trying to be a troll here. I remember my parents explaining to me when I was young that there was a time (the Carter Administration) when you could only get your gas on certain days depending on your license plate number. As a kid growing up in the abundant, booming 90s, I remember thinking how strange that was. It was certainly no preparation for now being a parent not able to find Children’s Tylenol 20+ years later!

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