According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of New Jersey is 51.2 percent female, 20 percent Hispanic or Latino, 15 percent African-American and 9.8 percent Asian.
As of last week, Gov.-elect Phil Murphy had appointed six women to his Cabinet, including two African-American women and two Latino women, and one male Indian-American Sikh.
If the appointments are approved by the state Senate, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, a former executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, will head the Department of Transportation, and Assemblywoman Marlene Caride will be the commissioner of the state Department of Banking and Insurance — the first Hispanic to head that agency.
Sheila Oliver, who will be the state’s first black lieutenant governor, will head the Department of Community Affairs. Former Passaic County Freeholder Tahesha Way, an African-American attorney, will be secretary of state. Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio will be state treasurer — only the second woman in state history to hold that post. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official Catherine McCabe will be commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
And Gurbir Grewal, currently Bergen County prosecutor, will become the first Sikh ever to serve as a state attorney general in the United States.
Murphy has said he wants a cabinet that “that doesn’t just have the best and the brightest, but looks like our state,” and, as you read this, he may well have made other minority appointments.
This State House diversity is welcome and refreshing. But is this diversity just for the sake of diversity and merely an attempt to play identity politics? Or will the power in the Murphy administration truly be held by a diverse group of people of varying backgrounds, and not just by the usual collection of wealthy, connected white males who tend to dominate in Trenton?
Only time will tell.
Murphy scoring points by naming women and minorities to head cabinet agencies doesn’t necessarily translate into true power for those people. They could easily have seats at the table, but no real say in how the state is ultimately governed. That will depend on the nitty-gritty of how Murphy runs his administration, to whom he really listens and how decisions are made.
Outgoing Gov. Chris Christie had somewhat of a mixed record on diversity. He did appoint Grewal to his current position as Bergen County prosecutor. Christie gets points for that. But so many of his appointments were friends or associates from his past — or wives, friends or associates of the regular cast of characters who make up Trenton’s white, male power structure.
Murphy seems sincere in his focus on diversity. Indeed, he seems intent on making it crystal clear that things have changed in Trenton and that New Jersey is now the place to find a government that will neither look nor act like the Trump administration in Washington.
But diversity in Trenton can’t just be about optics and national politics. Murphy’s quest for diversity certainly hasn’t included any representation on the transition team from South Jersey. Such geographical diversity is important, too. And the ultimate test of Murphy’s commitment to diversity will come in how power is shared in his administration.