A scant few minutes after New Jersey’s polls closed, CNN called the state’s governor’s race for Democrat Phil Murphy, the former Wall Street banker and U.S. ambassador to Germany who won the race for governor by a substantial 13 percentage points. His signature promises include a $15 minimum wage, marijuana legalization and a tax on the rich he says can boost the state’s budget.
Ryan Hutchins, New Jersey Bureau Chief for Politico, argued that in winning the governorship, Murphy was handed a hot potato stuffed with “the state’s mountainous problems.”
…For a party that spent the last eight years pointing a finger toward the governor’s office every time it couldn’t deliver, next year could prove a rude awakening. Murphy will embark on an ambitious 100-day agenda, in a wholly unfamiliar capital city, just as his party navigates a new political landscape.
To keep his promises, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany will need to find a way to legalize marijuana, increase funding to schools by hundreds of millions of dollars and deliver a state budget that increases pension funding. He’ll also need to raise taxes by more than $1 billion a year.
New Jersey also has the country’s highest property taxes and its most underfunded pension system.
The New York Times positioned the win as “a lift for Democrats,” and noted that with Democrats winning a majority in the legislature, New Jersey is now the seventh state in the U.S. where Democrats lead both the executive and legislative branches.
Slate referenced a sleight-of-hand Murphy was able to pull off by positioning his Wall Street experience as one that could benefit a broad base of New Jerseyans, and the fact that New Jersey is built to deliver Democratic victories given that registered Democrats in the state outnumber registered Republicans.
Murphy started with some formidable advantages in deep-blue New Jersey, including nearly a million more registered Democrats in the state, and an incumbent governor in Christie with a historically low approval rating. Murphy offered relatively little in the way of specific policy proposals, aside from a promise to raise taxes on the wealthy and push for a new state bank, which allowed him to parlay his two decades at Goldman Sachs into something like a public good. [emphasis added]
Matt Murphy of Politico NJ looked into the cross-tabs and noted that Phil Murphy did carry a New Jersey county that typically swings Republican.
Democrat Phil Murphy narrowly won traditionally Republican Somerset County, the home of President Trump’s golf club/ =summer residence. pic.twitter.com/QAmA06vTiH
Mother Jones also pointed to Governor Chris Christie’s basement-level approval rating, which stands at 15 percent. They also posited that Christie hurt himself among his base by praising Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy, just before the 2012 presidential election (a reaction, the article says, which could have been seen as a plus in “a healthier universe.”)
Might this off-year election set the groundwork for Democratic gains in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2018 midterm elections? The New York Times says New Jersey is one of the states being “targeted” by the Democratic party as a place where they’re counting on gains and says Murphy’s victory may be a sign that Republican incumbents in northern New Jersey are beatable.
The governor of New Jersey is often touted as one of the most powerful governors in the state, due in large part to wide latitude to use the line item veto and their ability to appoint the state attorney general and judges. Christie has used the line item veto five times over the past eight years to kill a so-called “millionaire’s tax.” Murphy has stated that the revenue from such a tax, plus revenue from proposed marijuana sales, could put $1.3 billion into the state’s coffers.
One notable feature of the election was turnout–only 36 percent of registered voters showed up to the polls on Tuesday. By contrast, Virginia, which also elected a Democratic governor, but in a nail-biter of a race compared to New Jersey, saw the highest voter turnout in 20 years. Unlike New Jersey’s race, President Donald Trump threw his rhetorical weight behind Republican candidate Ed Gillespie.
A blockbuster outcome of the election could be the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in New Jersey, which would make it the ninth state to do so. Murphy has called it a first 100 days priority.
Ryan Haygood, Executive Director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, homed in on the historical nature of Sheila Oliver’s ascendance to Lieutenant Governor. While it is a brand new position, it represents the highest executive office held by a black public figure in the state’s history.
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