Back when Phil Murphy announced his run for governor in May 2016, many people drew parallels between him and former Gov. Jon Corzine.
Both served long tenures at Goldman Sachs before entering politics and financed their campaigns with tens of millions of dollars from their own pockets.
However, while Corzine was gripped by unpopular budget decisions, eventually losing to Chris Christie upon running for reelection in 2009, Murphy looks set to win a second term, with a recent poll by Monmouth University in which he was leading 50% to 39%.
If he does win reelection, Murphy will become the first Democrat to win reelection as governor since Brendan Byrne in 1977, and this is not due to chance.
Murphy has managed to carve out a place for himself in the state’s Democratic party and pushed through policy that seemed unthinkable at the start of his term.
The two of his most lauded policies, a millionaire’s tax and the legalization of recreational marijuana, both seemed impossible after he took office. This was largely due to a shaky relationship between Murphy and Democratic State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney.
For the first two years of his term, Murphy and Sweeney had an icy relationship, in part due to Murphy pushing out Sweeney in the 2017 gubernatorial primary, as well as ideological differences. Murphy is a staunch progressive, while Sweeney lies closer to the center and had a close relationship with Republican former Gov. Chris Christie.
But despite this, the two have gradually found a working relationship.
During budget negotiations in 2020, Murphy and Sweeney, together with speaker of the General Assembly Craig Coughlin, were able to come to agree to Murphy’s millionaire’s tax.
The 10.75% tax rate, previously only applied to people making above $5 million, would be extended to those making above $1 million. As part of the compromise, some of this new income would be used to fund $500 tax rebates to lower and middle-income earners.
Legal marijuana was another issue where compromise was needed, but after voters approved a referendum on legalization 67% to 33%, the legislature got to work on a bill.
Negotiations were again tense, but an initial bill legalizing marijuana was signed in February of this year, with further action on the way. Murphy said he was “open-minded” on adjusting policies to allow home cultivation of marijuana in a recent interview with NJ News 12.
Other policies accomplished since his inauguration include the passage of a $15 hourly minimum wage, automatic voter registration, equal pay laws, restoration of $7.5 million in women’s health funding and a ban on jails signing contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Murphy’s first four years have been wildly successful, making much headway on progressive policies that help those who sorely need it. But, there’s still much more work to be done.
By harnessing the fundamental change brought to our state’s politics, Murphy could seek to remedy fundamental issues in New Jersey, building off the successes of his first term.
For example, New Jersey has one of the most segregated school systems in the nation, something that Murphy has taken little action on in his first term, other than a 2018 lawsuit filed by people close to Murphy.
This lawsuit, Latino Action Network v. New Jersey, is backed by the New Jersey Education Association and led to talks on proposed solutions on the issue. The talks gradually broke down, and the case made its way to the state Superior Court in January of last year.
A strong performance in the governor’s election would give Murphy a commanding mandate to address this, whether it be through a push for countywide school districts, legislation to increase the amount of affordable housing or some other solution.
Yet this is just one example of what Murphy could handle in a hypothetical second term.
At the end of the brutal 2009 campaign, after the narrow loss that led to eight years of Christie, Corzine gave a bittersweet concession speech.
“There is more for you to do, there is more for all of us to do,” Corzine said.
Twelve years later, these words ring more true than ever. So much good has been done since Murphy took office — so much positive change that seemed impossible. But, there is still no reason to be completely satisfied.
New Jersey needs a second term of Phil Murphy at his best. If the momentum of the last four years is continued until 2026, then our state and its people will be closer to the ideals of freedom and equality than any other state, at any other time.