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No. 1: Phil Murphy

Power 100

Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his 2020 budget address on March 5, 2019 in Trenton.

While Murphy is unquestionably the state’s most powerful elected official, his growing national prominence allows him to shape the perception of New Jersey.

The former Goldman Sachs executive delivered a solid Democratic victory a year after Donald Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 presidential election. Murphy overwhelmed his Republican opponent, then Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, whose candidacy likely suffered from the voters’ disillusionment with Chris Christie.

At times, Murphy has appeared awkward as he navigated the personalities and fiefdoms in Trenton but he has managed to maintain an image as a happy warrior. In that regard, he represents a refreshing change from a grim, hard-edged approach of his predecessor.

Murphy’s energy has allowed him to score important victories in the past year and begin to reverse some of Christie’s policies.

He has promised to pursue a “stronger and fairer” New Jersey that would “benefit the middle class, and allow those who aspire to enter the middle class. In February, Murphy signed a bill gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour for most workers by 2024. And he has expanded family leave for many workers.

The governor vowed to have adult-use marijuana legalized in the state, enact a millionaire’s tax, do away with the corporate tax breaks of his predecessor, fix NJ Transit and secure federal funding for the Gateway tunnel, which would replace the two aging tunnels that travel underneath the Hudson River.

That’s an ambitious agenda. The Gateway project and NJ Transit in particular seem like intractable problems. How he fares in this year’s budget talks could serve as an indicator of how far Murphy is likely to get. But he has been learning to wield his power in the state capital and set a positive tone while trumpeting New Jersey’s virtues to the nation.

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