Tammy Murphy shows she won’t play traditional role

Tammy Murphy, the state’s new first lady, promises to be different from those who served the role in the past.

The reason: Murphy has hired a policy director to support her goals of being more involved in the state.

Lauren Lalicon, who has worked on policy for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, will now assist Murphy as a paid staffer.

The move by Murphy has given rise to comparisons of Virginia’s first lady, Dorothy McAuliffe, who has set up an office in the capital.

Brigid Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, said this will be a new look for New Jersey.

“When you look at the first lady or the first spouses that have served in New Jersey, they have tended to be in the rather traditional role, and have taken a relatively back seat to the governor,” Harrison said. “Or, they have — somewhat like Mary Pat Christie — while maybe not having a prominent level of visibility, having been important in their family, in their household and being the breadwinner, and stepping in with some policy.

“Dick Codey’s wife made a name for herself with postpartum depression, Mary Pat Christie made a name for herself on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.”

Harrison doesn’t feel the public will be bothered by Murphy’s role — or the possibility that she may set up an office in the State House.

“Given her role in the campaign, in which she consistently acted as a surrogate, I don’t think it would be surprising to many for her to take on a more active, policy-oriented role,” Harrison said.

And, Harrison said, the precedent has been set at the federal level.

“People have very tolerant roles of the person married to the president,” she said. “From traditional roles like Barbara Bush followed by someone as contemporary and hands-on as Hillary Clinton demonstrates that voters give the first spouse a lot of wiggle room. They allow them to stamp the role with their own personality and her own priorities and their own level of involvement in the aspects of government affairs.

“What we know is that this role is not a linear development. It wasn’t necessarily that Hillary Clinton was a game-changer, because then you had Laura Bush and Michelle Obama come into office and essentially pedal it back into a more traditional role, partly because they had children to raise, but it was clearly their preference.”

Now, New Jersey’s first lady is likely to engage with, and be visibly present at, policy discussions on the environment, but she also has expertise in a broad range of issues.

Murphy was a co-founder of New Start New Jersey, a now-shuttered policy think tank created prior to the gubernatorial campaign.

Before that, Murphy worked in finance for many years, principally with Goldman Sachs in the U.S. and Investcorp in Europe.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, she has been a member of the school’s board of visitors since 2015.

Murphy was present at both executive order signings, and at the first cabinet meeting last week — a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked, some said.

Michellene Davis, president of the Executive Women of New Jersey and a member of the health care committee for the governor’s transition, said her presence shows that the Murphy couple is a power couple.

“She definitely has a background and an understanding of both health delivery as well as the social determinants of health care,” Davis said. “She understands how important it is.

“So, I have a personal bias on that side. But my unbiased view is this state is in such condition that there is more than enough work to be done, and we would be remiss if we had her substantive background, her knowledge and brilliance and not tap into it.”

Davis said the move by the administration to include the policy adviser, as well as Tammy Murphy’s presence — literally a seat at the table, a key issue for EWNJ — is a great example for the state.

“If the highest office in our state can ensure that women have a seat at the table, then every business needs to also take notice,” Davis said. “I think it’s nontraditional, but if we continue to do the same things, you’ll wind up getting what you’ve always gotten.”

Harrison agreed.

“She definitely has a seat at the table,” Harrison said. “The fact of the matter is, New Jersey elected Phil Murphy to be their governor. She clearly isn’t going to have the authority the governor has, but the reality is that she is the person who has the closest seat to the governor at all times. That in and of itself gives her a certain degree of power.”

The hiring of Lalicon also is representative of the Murphy administration’s commitment to diversity.

Lalicon is a Filipino-American who has spent the past two and a half years with the state chamber.

Michael Egenton, executive vice president of government relations at the chamber, said Lalicon’s new job is both a proud and sad moment for the organization.

“Sad to see her go, but also excited and very proud and happy for her in her new role working for first lady Tammy Murphy and having the experience with a new governor and new administration,” he said.

In fact, Egenton said, he told Lalicon he would not bother countering the offer of the administration.

“I told the folks in the Murphy administration, you’re getting a great employee,” he said. “She works hard and will not disappoint. I’m going to miss her dearly, but as a friend and colleague and mentor and boss, I wish her nothing but the best.”

Prior to working for the chamber, Lalicon was an intern with the chamber through its Payne Scholars program.