Friends or foes: Why one political scientist is still worried about governor’s relationship with Legislature

By Anjalee Khemlani and Tom Bergeron
Montclair | Jul 1, 2018 at 11:18 am

There’s nothing like an 11th-hour deal to create political bedfellows.

Saturday night, Gov. Phil Murphy, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) seemingly spent as much time discussing their newfound relationships as the more than $1 billion in new revenue that they agreed to collect from others.

Murphy thanked and praised Sweeney; Sweeney did the same.

Coughlin added the levity.

“It was such ease in the first four months, we figured we’d mix it up a little bit in June,” he said.

But, despite the agreement, one analyst said reaching the point of having six hours left before the deadline doesn’t bode well for the new governor.

Brigid Harrison, a political analyst and professor at Montclair State University, said it was too close.

“This whole process has been indicative of a really phenomenal degree of dysfunction between the governor and the legislative leaders,” she said “The fact that you had these competing (news) conferences for days demonstrates that the Governor’s Office doesn’t understand Legislative Politics 101.

“You have to allow the legislative leaders to save face. I’m all for transparency, but the reality is that politics demands that people be allowed to look good in front of their constituents.”

A shutdown would have been indicative of the shallow support the governor has in the Legislature, she said.

“The administration is a new administration. At the end of the day, the acrimony that has continued to fester between the Murphy administration and the Senate president does not bode well for the rest of the governor’s administration,” she said.

The governor, of course, doesn’t see it that way.

“We had honest, blunt, sometimes heated, but always civil discussions,” he said. “I have tremendous respect for the leaders and as partners in governing. I appreciate their willingness to sit down and get this agreement done.”

Murphy said the two sides agree more than they disagree.

“There was never a disagreement about our values or our principles, just on how best to get there,” he said.

Days before, that wasn’t necessarily case. At least that’s the way Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a former Assembly Speaker, saw it.

“I have never seen the level of obstructionism come from the legislative leadership as I am seeing in this cycle.”

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