NJ Gov. Murphy’s multiple controversies threaten chances to be first Dem reelected in over 40 years
Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is up for re-election next week, and his years in the office have seen a handful of controversies stretching from the pandemic to the state’s notorious taxes.
Murphy will square up against Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli next Tuesday in a race where he says he’s “running like I’m 10 points behind.” President Biden and former President Barack Obama have both joined the governor in recent days in the Garden State, as Murphy works to become the first Democratic governor in the state to win reelection since 1977.
But since 2018, Murphy has juggled comparisons to disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his handling of the coronavirus, has been floated as America’s most progressive governor, and been accused of being out of touch with taxpayers in the state.
Murphy was warned last year that ordering nursing homes to readmit residents recovering from COVID-19 would lead to unnecessary deaths.
Despite the warning, Murphy implemented the order.
“Apparently nobody gives a damn about this loss of life,” said Republican state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon in March at a hearing on the matter. “That is shameful.”
New Jersey was among the states hardest hit by the pandemic, and more than 8,600 residents and staff at long-term care facilities died.
Murphy, however, has repeatedly defended the plan and said it was clear: The infected had to be separated from others in order to not spread the virus.
The order, overall, did not draw as much attention or backlash as a similar directive in New York, but the issue has been at the forefront of election issues ahead of voting day.
“The very first deaths in this country took place in Washington state, and in Washington they took place in the nursing home. From the very beginning we knew who the most vulnerable were …so that’s certainly something I would’ve done differently,” Ciatarelli told Insider NJ this month.
Murphy has also been championed by liberals as potentially being the country’s most progressive governor.
He worked to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, expanded access and restored state funding to Planned Parenthood in 2018, and signed a bill this year offering tuition-free college to low income families. And two years before George Floyd died in police custody, Murphy signed a bill requiring the Attorney General to handle investigations involving a person’s death during an encounter with law enforcement, not county prosecutors.
“Today is a great day for justice, civil and human rights. I want to thank Governor Murphy for proving yet again his dedication to being progressive, not just in words but in action,” Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake said in 2019 after Murphy signed the bill.
The various legislation has elicited praise from progressives in the state.
“There has never, ever been a more progressive [New Jersey] governor, or a governor who’s been more effective on progressive issues. He’s raised so many expectations because of that,” Hetty Rosenstein, former state director of the Communications Workers of America, told The Nation in an article titled, “The Most Progressive Governor In America?“
“He’s proven to be an extraordinarily progressive governor,” Sue Altman, the executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Party, told the outlet.
But to some Republicans, Murphy has “broken” the state with his policies.
“I’m proud to endorse Jack Ciattarelli to fix what Phil Murphy has broken,” former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in July when endorsing Ciattarelli. “Jack understands the importance of lowering taxes, getting New Jersey working again and standing with law enforcement officers to keep communities safe.”
“Just as Joe Biden is failing the country, Phil Murphy has been failing New Jersey. So, we continue to go out there and talk about the things that matter most to New Jersians: taxes and making New Jersey a better place to do business,” Ciattarelli told “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday.
Ciattarelli, who is running as a moderate, has also taken issue with a 2019 comment from Murphy, when he said, “If you’re a one issue voter and tax rate is your issue, we’re probably not your state.”
Taxes are among the top issues in New Jersey – which has the highest property taxes in the nation – and Murphy’s seemingly cavalier comment set off criticism in 2019, and was resurrected this year during election season.
“When a governor says, ‘We’re probably not your state because I don’t really care about taxes,’ that to me is an arrogant statement and it also sends the wrong message to the people in the state who have hope for some change,” Republican Assemblyman Jon Bramnick said in 2019.
One pollster, Patrick Murray of Monmouth University, said that while Ciattarelli’s criticisms of Murphy on taxes have resonated with some voters, it might not be enough to push the election in the Republicans’ favor.
“Ciattarelli’s attack on Murphy as being out of touch on taxes has resonated with some voters, but not enough to change the overall issue picture for this campaign,” Murray said after a new Monmouth poll was released Wednesday. “Even though concerns about the pandemic have lessened, the shift toward education policy basically produces the same benefit for Murphy. He is viewed as the better candidate on both issues.”
Jersey Republicans are also lambasting the governor this week following the release of footage from the Democrat’s campaign that alleges “he will” require residents in the state to be vaccinated if he’s reelected.
“This extremely disturbing video appears to confirm what the Murphy campaign has been hinting at — and the NJGOP has been warning about — throughout the summer: that a second Murphy term will bring about the same type of vaccine passports seen in Bill de Blasio’s New York, burdening already suffering businesses and discriminating against minority communities in which immunization rates are lower,” said NJGOP executive director Tom Szymanski.
Current polling shows Murphy holding an edge over Ciattarelli, with 50% support compared to the Republican’s 39%. Murphy’s 11-point margin over Ciattarelli in the new survey is down from a 13-point lead in a Monmouth poll from last month.
Murphy’s office did not immediately respond with comment when approached by Fox News.