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: A Monmouth University poll released this week put Governor Murphy’s approval ratings on his handling of the pandemic at 66%-26%, with even 37% of New Jersey Republicans saying he did a good job. We now approaching three years since the start of COVID-19, so is the governor’s legacy on this issue solid?
Dan Bryan: It is. New Jerseyans know that Governor Murphy stuck by them throughout the worst months of the pandemic, made the difficult decisions with the best information possible, and followed the science rather than partisan politics. I was in many rooms with him while decisions were being made, and not once did the idea of politics enter the conversation.
At every turn, Governor Murphy, his Chief of Staff George Helmy, his Chief Counsel Matt Platkin, and the rest of his administration dedicated themselves 24/7 (for months on end) to saving as many lives as possible, and both the data and public opinion reflect that. Most New Jerseyans haven’t forgotten the excellent job he did to keep them safe and fight back against the pandemic, and I doubt they ever will.
Remember this as well: just as the pandemic bore down on us in early March, Governor Murphy underwent serious surgery to remove a tumor in his kidney. He was supposed to recover for over a month, but he was back to work less than two weeks later. Even though he was fully engaged while recovering at home, he knew how important it was for New Jerseyans to see him present and in charge, regardless of the risk to his personal health. I think his display of selfless leadership in that moment will define his legacy long after his time in office is over.
Alex Wilkes: First, I think we have a history in this state of polls overestimating the support for this Governor, but second, consider the information (or lack thereof) the public has at its disposal regarding Governor Murphy’s handling of COVID. Democrats repeatedly rejected Republican requests for oversight and investigation as the Governor extended his emergency powers over and over (and over) again while nursing home deaths skyrocketed, and kids remained out of school. Even more damning is the Governor’s blatantly political decision to release the results of his long-promised review until after the November elections.
What voters do know is the impact that the Governor’s draconian measures had on their day-to-day lives – policies, by the way, that are resoundingly rejected by the respondents to this poll. New Jerseyans today are seeing small businesses in their towns that never recovered from the unnecessary and unscientific lockdowns. They are seeing the terrible impact of learning loss on their children who were cruelly kept out of school for nearly a year. They are seeing an overall decline in mental health and rise in substance abuse caused by the Governor’s arbitrary decisions, like shuttering places of worship and (most bizarrely) closing down the open-air state parks. For a guy that was supposedly “following the science,” he and his fellow Democrats certainly had no problem partying without masks, while forcing that misery on the state’s students and 2-year-olds.
This total abuse of power will never be tolerated again, and the true verdict on these policies will be delivered by voters this November who will force spineless Democrats in the state legislature to answer for doing absolutely nothing to stop the madness.
The situation with a human error causing some votes in Monmouth County exposed a vulnerability with election security in New Jersey that has a bunch of people from both parties concerned, mainly since ES&S manufactures about half the voting machines in the U.S. Should New Jersey election officials have been faster in disclosing the issues to the public? What should we expect from the attorney general’s investigation?
Alex: I am honestly unsure what will come of the Attorney General’s investigation because its provenance, unfortunately, appears to be rooted in partisan politics.
In November, after Mercer County experienced a countywide failure of voting machines, the New Jersey Republican State Committee sent a request to Attorney General Platkin for an investigation. One can argue that additional oversight was particularly called for after Governor Murphy refused to fill the open Deputy Superintendent of Elections – a Republican position – during this critical period.
Meanwhile, when vulnerable Democratic Senator Vin Gopal demanded an investigation into an isolated software failure in Monmouth County, Platkin swiftly obliged. The difference? Look no further than the partisan makeup of each county.
Dan: It’s critically important for voters in Monmouth County to feel that their elections are safe, secure, and accurate. I think everyone involved in this situation knows that, and is working towards it. And although it’s always easy on the outside to demand information as quickly as possible, their number one concern those election officials had was to ensure they had the right information. They would be under far worse criticism had they gone out with pieces of information, or the wrong information.
I won’t speculate on what the Attorney General’s investigation will find, but knowing this Attorney General and the fantastic team he has working with him, I am sure that they will follow the facts and ensure that justice is done, if there is any need for it. Attorney General Platkin’s reputation speaks for itself.
Question: Jersey City Councilwoman Amy DeGise lost her driver’s license for one year and was fined $5,000 after a hit-and-run last year when she collided with a bicyclist, and she issued an apology. As communications experts, what does DeGise need to do in the coming weeks and months to avoid continued calls for her resignation? Is her political career salvageable?
Dan: Councilwoman DeGise clearly suffered from the advice of her lawyers not to say anything publicly until after her sentencing (lawyers, generally, are the natural enemies of comms staffers everywhere). I think the penalty was fair, and the statement she put out afterward read as sincere and authentic. Though there has been plenty of noise around this incident, there’s no real threat of a recall, which is the only way to remove her from office. So yes, I do believe she’ll serve out the rest of her term.
I’m sure Councilwoman DeGise would love to put this ordeal behind her and focus on doing the job that Jersey City elected her to do. If I were advising her, I’d tell her to remain remorseful and apologetic as her constituents continue to bring the incident up. She cannot get defensive, as difficult as that may be. Her patience with her constituents has to be infinite. And most importantly, she has to dive back into doing the work of the job, publicly delivering for constituents and making a positive impact for them. If she can do that in a convincing way, she’ll ably serve out the rest of her term.
Alex: I suppose my answer to this is that if you are in the business of being a Hudson County Democrat, then this is proof that business is apparently still very good! That video and her conduct would be a career-ender for virtually anybody else, but it appears that a powerful last name combined with the Democratic machine ensures that her position is safe (sadly, we can’t say the same for the pedestrians and bikers in Jersey City).
In all seriousness, Jersey City is the best, and its people deserve better than to be represented by this callous, arrogant woman.
There’s talk about Republicans wanting State Sen. Sam Thompson, who will turn 88 this summer, to retire gracefully and not try to serve until he’s 92. Looking at the bigger picture, on the national level, and in New Jersey, how is the next generation of people with a desire to serve their communities expected to deal with those who refuse to leave office?
Alex: My answer on this remains the same, regardless of partisan affiliation: age is a legitimate issue in a campaign, but it is one for the voters to decide.
That being said, I have long been passionate about getting a younger generation of Republicans involved. Some readers here chide me on social media for citing Ronald Reagan at times, but his wisdom is timeless.
He once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
I have long taken that quote to heart in what I do, and I quote it here in full because often times it is only the first part of it that is referenced. The most crucial part is that precious freedom must be fought for and protected. Reagan isn’t simply waxing poetic; he is giving each new generation of conservatives an evergreen mission.
The bottom line: it is our responsibility as the protectors of that freedom to show up and be involved.
Dan: We’re seeing this play out in the ’24 California Senate race as we speak. There’s clearly a balance that a more youthful challenger has to strike: show the need for change and new leadership, while remaining respectful of the current officeholder. While I believe some elected officials have clearly overextended their time in office, I also remember how good and effective Senator Lautenberg and his office were when he was in his early 90s. If you’re doing the job and delivering for your constituents, I don’t think they care much about your age.
There are always plenty of opportunities to serve your community, whether or not the big spots are open. Run for local town council or school board, or ask to be appointed to the zoning or planning board. I’m not sure there’s a town in New Jersey that has enough dedicated public servants for all the spots they need to fill. These are the jobs that truly impact people’s lives. If the next generation is looking to make real change, I hope they realize how much of that change can and should be made at the local level.