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 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 every week with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.
Question: After eleven ballots, the House has been unable to elect a new Speaker, no one has been sworn in, and Washington is seeing the type of chaos that makes New Jersey look completely functional. Should Kevin McCarthy stand down, make a deal with Democrats, or stay in the race no matter how long it takes?
Alex: I think what we are seeing in this process is not surprising given the narrower than expected margins coming out of the midterms. There was always going to be a fight of this magnitude—whether it was over the debt ceiling or a future spending bill—because the caucus is simply short of the number of votes it takes to maneuver around a small percentage of dissenting members.
I’m not really moved by characterizations of this fight as somehow representative of a greater divide within the Republican Party. Remember: the holdouts’ objections are largely rooted in personal conflicts – not ideological. It’s also easy to focus on the few members creating the holdup as opposed to the over 200 members that have consistently supported Leader McCarthy all along.
Would I rather Republicans be governing instead of being embroiled in this embarrassing spectacle? Of course. To be clear, though, I don’t object to a more deliberative process generally, but in this specific instance, the opposition has failed to advance a set of articulable concerns or a viable alternative.
My real question is: where is Mr. Problem Solver Josh Gottheimer? If the Democrats were as easy and carefree as their House floor popcorn popping would suggest, wouldn’t he have the freedom to take a few buddies across the aisle and save the day?
Dan: As much as I usually don’t like to watch the American system of government disintegrating in real time, I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a fun week of TV. By the way, Nancy Pelosi just ran a caucus flawlessly with the same small majority, so no, this isn’t a normal side effect of a thin majority.
Let’s be clear: the Republican party is incapable of governing on a national level. They are indebted to far-right radicals that care far more about their grievances and resentments than about running the country. I have no idea how this ends for Congressman McCarthy, though I think it’s safe to say that even if he wins, he’ll be a historically weak and ineffective Speaker. This doesn’t seem like the message the National GOP wants to send leading into the 2024 election cycle.
And not to pile on here, but you know it’s getting bad when Republicans try to blame Democrats for their not being able to elect a Speaker. I can’t remember the losing party ever coming out looking as good as Democrats in Congress do right now. If I were advising them, I’d show members ignoring the Republican circus and doing their jobs alongside the Democratic Senate Majority and the Democratic Administration. Republicans are now the party of administrative incompetence, and I’d make them own that.
Question: Governor Murphy will deliver his State of the State address on Tuesday. What should New Jerseyans expect to hear from him?
Dan: I am not an unbiased source here, nor am I removed from the process. With that said:
Under Governor Murphy, New Jersey is leading again. We’re leading on gun safety, reproductive rights, and igniting a booming, diverse economy. There’s a renewed sense of pride in New Jersey, and I expect the Governor to proudly lean into that.
Governor Murphy is also proving that a responsible, problem-solving government is back in Trenton. Three credit upgrades, real property tax relief, and an economy that’s outpacing our neighbors’. While the other side of the aisle hoots, hollers, and makes an embarrassment of themselves down in Washington, Governor Murphy will provide adult leadership.
And this is a Governor that realizes that there is still a whole lot more to do. There is more work to make New Jersey more affordable, to make our communities safer, and to make our economy even stronger. I know him well, and I can guarantee you that this is not an administration that is going to slow down in his second term. Governor Murphy is going to run through the tape, and ensure that his second term is just as successful and impactful as the first.
Alex: Unfortunately, I think what we’ll see from Governor Murphy is a preview of his presidential pipedream. The story he wants to tell is that under his leadership, he has turned New Jersey into a progressive paragon that can somehow serve as a model for the rest of the country.
The reality is that under the Democrats’ heavy hand, they have made this overregulated, high-cost state a nightmare for families and businesses. In his zeal to make New Jersey the “California of the East” (yikes), Murphy has zeroed in on divisive, woke policies, like subverting parents’ rights in education and taking away your gas-powered stoves and cars. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day governance, Murphy has fallen down on the job again and again. His managerial incompetence has created unacceptable delays in our court system, Motor Vehicle Commission, and Department of Labor, in addition to his complete mismanagement of the COVID crisis.
If, and when, Governor Murphy tries to bring this record out of his comfort zone of one-party rule and a largely compliant media market, I think he will quickly realize that his charmless, hapless style of leadership falls completely flat with voters.
Question: Steve Fulop announced this week that he won’t run for re-election as mayor of Jersey City in 2025, something a lot of people think it’s a clear indication that he’s running for governor. What do you think of his move?
Alex: I think it makes sense to forecast his run now (even if it was really last fall). With other contenders potentially looking to make an entry, like former Senate President Steve Sweeney and Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill—fresh off her recent victory—Fulop is likely looking to expand his perch early on without the local baggage. It’s a lot easier to escape press scrutiny (such as it is in our state) about your councilmembers’ repeated traffic problems, for example, if you’re not seeking another term.
Dan: I think it’s far too early to worry about 2025, and I am long retired from the predictions business.
That said, New Jersey Democrats are lucky to have a deep, strong bench of candidates for the future, and I have no doubt that Steve Fulop will be making noise in the years ahead. His announcement was handled very well, laying out the story of an impressive track record in Jersey City, and he sent a clear message about his intentions.
Mayor Fulop is an attractive candidate for many reasons. He’s got executive experience, he hails from heavily Democratic Hudson County, and he has become an excellent fundraiser. And as a Hudson County political graduate myself, I am impressed with how well he’s navigated the choppy waters in Jersey City and has twice cruised to reelection without any serious competition.
Question: New Jersey ‘s minimum wage increased from $13.00 per hour to $14.13 per hour on January 1 and will hit a maximum of $15 per hour next year. Will there be a push to increase the minimum wage in 2025, a gubernatorial year?
Dan: The minimum wage will be tied to CPI moving forward, meaning that as the cost of living rises, the minimum wage will rise. And rightfully so. No one should work a full time job in America and live in poverty. Every American that wants to work deserves a job with dignity, one that can provide for themselves and their families.
A higher minimum wage not only allows more families in New Jersey to live their lives with dignity, it serves as an economic boon to our state economy. More consumers spending money in their communities and relying less on public assistance – seems like something Republicans should love! And let’s be honest: though a $15 per hour minimum wage is a big step towards that, even that is a very difficult wage on which to live.
Alex: Instead of making New Jerseyans wait for incremental increases in the minimum wage tied to inherently regressive – and offsetting—forces like inflation, the next Governor of New Jersey should be focused like a laser on making our state more affordable and appealing for both families and businesses.
Despite our natural advantages as a state – access to major population centers, ports, highways, rail transportation, and an educated workforce – Phil Murphy has made our state the worst in which to do business. Hint to New Jersey Democrats: the weather isn’t the only reason drawing our neighbors and young people to states like Florida, North Carolina, and Texas.
Why does that matter for someone making minimum wage? It means that there are no businesses coming here to create the kind of competition that would naturally drive wages and benefits upward. Adding insult to injury is the Democrats’ refusal to acknowledge the affordability crisis that is eating away at New Jersey families.
Instead of campaigning on a minimum wage, let’s think bigger for the sake of all New Jerseyans.