It goes without saying that Murphy is the state’s most powerful elected official. But at times, the former Goldman Sachs executive has appeared awkward as he navigated the personalities and fiefdoms in Trenton while trying to project an image as a happy warrior. Even Murphy critics acknowledge that his persona represents a refreshing change from a grim, hard-edged approach of his predecessor, Republican Chris Christie.
“The criticisms have been that he doesn’t know how Trenton works, and he doesn’t have any friends in Trenton,” Sue Altman, head of New Jersey Working Families, a progressive activist group that also supports many of Murphy’s efforts, told NJBIZ in January. “But I think he’s got a strong and growing group and strong advocates behind him.”
Having just passed the midway point this January in his four-year term—which Murphy said is likely just the first quarter of a potential eight-year term—the governor’s record is mixed. He struck a deal with legislative leadership last year to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and he’s kept several campaign promises on reforming marijuana laws, such as criminal records expungement and an expansion of the state’s medicinal cannabis market. He’s touted efforts to boost the state’s environmental protection laws and clean energy industry.
But he and lawmakers failed to act on his key promise of legalizing recreational marijuana for adults, instead punting it to the voters as a ballot question this November. Murphy is also making another go at enacting a millionaire’s tax, which the Legislature has already blocked twice.
Perhaps his most consequential move to date has been the investigation of the state’s corporate tax incentive program. Murphy’s pointed criticism of the scheme repeatedly put him at odds with lawmakers up and down the state, especially in South Jersey, where millions of incentive dollars were awarded to businesses moving to Camden.
Critics also greeted with skepticism Murphy’s promises, made during his most recent State of the State address, to overhaul a culture in Trenton that he said prioritized “well-connected and entrenched special interests” and was rife with “misogyny” that created a hostile environment for women in New Jersey politics.
Under public pressure, Murphy’s attorney last month allowed a former top aide, Julie Roginsky, to go public with details of a “toxic workplace” in the Murphy campaign before she left in 2017 — many of them said they were previously barred from going public with those stories.
And two former top supporters of the governor, Adam Alonso and Liz Gilbert, were recently forced out of the host committee for this summer’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, following allegations that they were creating a “toxic work environment,” according to media reports.
The governor’s track record with trying to improve New Jersey Transit, an agency plagued by delays and cancellations, also has been met with skepticism. Shifting the blame to the Christie administration has only gotten him so far, and Murphy has appeared frosty about funding proposals lawmakers are pressing on him.
While the state constitution grants Murphy a great deal of power, he will have to hone his skills as a dealmaker to improve his record over the next two years before he must face the voters again.