Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, moments after being declared the easy winner in Tuesday’s gubernatorial election, spoke to the business community while telling his supporters his plans for the New Jersey economy.
The details are still to come, but the message was clear: Murphy is aiming to bring a more progressive approach to the building of the state’s economy.
“Our first task must be to live up to our creed to create a stronger and fairer economy that works for all 9 million who call the state home,” the Democrat said. “We will grow this economy again, both by getting back to the things that we used to do really well, and with a keen eye on where the 21st century economy is headed.
“We will rebuild our state from the bottom up and the middle out, and we’ll ask those at the very top to do their fair share. That means a higher minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, tax fairness and the real property tax relief that our middle class and seniors so desperately need.
“We will seed the investments in public education, in infrastructure, in our colleges and universities, in clean energy and in our workforce, which will create a better society and make us attractive to the businesses we will need to build a sustainable future.”
Murphy beat the Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, by 14 percentage points, 56-42, of the approximately 2 million votes that were cast.
The race has not been in doubt since Murphy skillfully (and stunningly) dispatched the two supposed front-runners for his party’s nomination, state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, over a nine-day span last fall.
Since then, Murphy has campaigned vigorously on numerous progressive social and business issues, including the full funding of the pensions for state workers, and made his support for unions a top emphasis. He repeated that Tuesday night, saying the “demonizing” of union labor will end immediately.
But he also reached out to the small business owner, who is concerned about an economy “that has stubbornly stalled and is unfair.”
How much it resonated remains to be seen.
Krista Jenkins, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and executive director of PublicMind, the school’s well-regarded polling and survey organization, said the race differed from so many in the past.
“It’s been such an unusual election,” she said. “Both candidates haven’t generated that much excitement.”
Which, considering the amount of frustration with the direction of the state, should have been the opposite, she said. And, both candidates were very different, offering voters the choice they have asked for, she said.
For all Murphy promised, Jenkins said backers listed support for legalizing marijuana as a key issue.
“People associate Murphy with pot,” Jenkins said. “That’s the thing he’s really resonated with.
“Oftentimes, people say they are supporting him because of the revenue legalized pot will generate for the state. It’s just passing up millions of dollars of revenue for something people are already doing, and is a new revenue stream for the state.”
Murphy, 60, will be sworn in as the state’s 56th governor Jan. 16. He will do so with Democrats in control of both the state Senate and Assembly, something that has not happened since Jon Corzine was elected in 2005.
Corzine, like Murphy, is a former Golden Sachs executive. And while some tried to paint Murphy as the second coming of the unpopular Corzine, Murphy has made it clear he feels the analogy does not hold.
Tuesday night, he told the crowd at the Asbury Park Convention Hall that now is the time for a new road and new vision.
“The days of division are over,” he said. “We will move forward together. This is exactly who we are in Jersey, we have each other’s backs. To believe in each of us is to believe in all of us.
“Eighteen months ago, I chose to run for governor on the belief that Jersey’s best days are before us. That our future is unlimited and that we have been failed by leadership which forgot what it meant to dream big.”
And while the election was against Guadagno — and the campaign focused on her connection to current Gov. Chris Christie — Murphy spoke to the result being a mandate against President Donald Trump, too.
“We will stand firm for New Jersey’s values and push back against the mean winds blowing at us from Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This is one of the first major elections since Donald Trump was elected. Tonight, New Jersey sent an unmistakable message to the entire nation: We are better than this.
“Whether it be attacks on public education or our environment or attempts to demonize our immigrant neighbors or deport our dreamers, or efforts to push through a federal tax plan that would hurt our state more than any other, or mean-spirited actions to gut our health care. We will stand with steel (resolve) and firmly say, ‘With all due respect, Mr. President, you will not do that in the great state of New Jersey.’”
Murphy held out a proverbial olive branch — but did so with a warning.
“If we can find common ground with the president and congressional leadership on vital needs like federal funding for infrastructure, we will do our part to forge solutions that benefit New Jersey,” he said. “But, we will not be silent in the face of an all-out assault on American values and on our constitution.”
Murphy said he is ready for the challenge.
“It won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be overnight, but let there be no doubt, starting here, starting now and starting with us, New Jersey is coming back,” he said.