Do you remember all the problems and protests New Jersey had around the 2020 election — all of our recent elections, really? Issues with voting machines, mail-in ballots, early voting?
You don’t? Maybe it’s because there have not been any.
During a period in our history when seemingly every election is a challenge and challenging — whether it be because of those running or the pandemic — New Jersey has performed the most important part of our democracy flawlessly.
Thanks to Tahesha Way.
It’s just one of the many things that Way has done — without fanfare — as New Jersey’s secretary of state. One of the many things that she has done behind the scenes in decades of public service.
On Friday, Way got her overdue moment in the spotlight, when Gov. Phil Murphy announced she was taking over the role of lieutenant governor, filling an office that has been vacant since the passing of Sheila Oliver on Aug. 1.
Murphy sang her praises.
“She is as wonderful a person as she is a public servant: Warm, passionate, principled — and guided by the honest belief that hard work and perseverance can lead you anywhere,” he said.
Murphy pointed to her election efforts, saying she thrived under the most challenging circumstances you can imagine.
“In the face of a once-in-a-century pandemic, along with a relentless assault on our democracy, led by a certain former president who will remain unnamed, Tahesha went above and beyond to secure our election system here in New Jersey,” he said.
“And, under her watch, we saw a record number of New Jerseyans vote in the 2020 election. That is an astonishing feat, considering it was the first major election conducted almost entirely by mail.
“So, Tahesha turned that unprecedented challenge into a critical opportunity. She seized the moment to help more New Jerseyans than ever turn out and exercise their most fundamental right. That is the definition of leadership.”
Like Oliver, Way has served in positions at all levels in the state — from the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders to the New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council to the state’s judicial branch, as an administrative law judge.
As secretary of state, she has impacted the state by overseeing so many areas, from a record-breaking population count in the 2020 census to helping the state’s tourism industry come back following the pandemic (an expected record $48 billion this year) to paving the way for our growing film and media industry.
Her credentials are impeccable: Way, 53, is a graduate of Brown University (with a law degree from the University of Virginia), a wife, a proud mother of four — and as humble as they come.
“There are no words that can adequately express what I am feeling at this moment,” she said Friday.
She then thanked Murphy and the state’s residents.
“Ever since I was first elected to public office — as a freeholder for Passaic County, which I am proud to call my home — I have been on the journey of a lifetime. In every single position I have held, from my days as a state judge, to my current role as secretary of state, the people of New Jersey have honored me with the opportunity to serve.
“You have placed your faith in me. And in doing so, you have allowed me to join Gov. Murphy in building a stronger, fairer state for every New Jerseyan, especially our neighbors who — like my own, late parents — work every day to keep our state and country moving forward.”
Way saluted Oliver.
“Sheila was more than a trusted colleague,” she said. “She was a cherished friend, a mentor and a role model to me and the countless other Black women who have chosen a career in public service.”
Way fully understands that role moves to her.
“As lieutenant governor, I will have the solemn honor of building upon Sheila’s towering legacy,” she said. “So, here is my promise to the people of New Jersey: Like Sheila, I will dedicate every day of my life to fighting for the forgotten families of our state.
“I will do everything in my power to bring down the cost of living, so no parent will have to suffer the indignity of choosing between putting food on the table or keeping a roof over their child’s head.
“I will protect our fundamental freedoms — so every resident of our state can make their own health care decisions, or access affordable higher education or, simply, marry who they love and live as who they are in their hearts.
“And, of course, I will work to ensure that New Jersey remains the best — and safest — state to raise a family.”
Ever the public servant, Way ended her remarks on her big day by making sure that the people — and the state — come first.
“While today marks a new beginning for the Garden State, we will be guided by the same New Jersey values that have guided us since the very beginning: Freedom. Fairness — and equal justice for all,” she said.