The 81st edition of the Walk to Washington was slightly behind schedule. It is a train full of politicians after all, but once things got going, it was the usual bumper-to-bumper, wall-to-wall schmoozing and a bit of boozing. It is the Chamber train after all, and priorities are priorities.
“By the sixth or seventh free cocktail, you get to learn a lot from people, so it’s a good opportunity to really understand what’s going on,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.
Fifty lawmakers rode the train this year, which is a new record. Part of that has to do with the fact that there’s a new governor for the first time in eight years. Some said one event could very well define the relationship between the governor and the Legislature.
“The budget obviously … It’s my first time on the Budget Committee and a lot of promises were made during that campaign, and all of them cost a lot of money,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz.
“Now it’s going to be an opportunity for him to show the people of New Jersey how he’s going to pay for that, and like I said, with that most critical issue, property taxes and affordability. We’re anxious to see how he’s going to balance that,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco.
“Well, I was in governor’s counsel working for that governor when it was closed down …,” Assemblywoman Annette Quijano responded when asked if she thought there would be a possibility of a government shutdown, something that occurred the last time there was a Democratic governor and a Democratic Legislature. “I think we can always come to a table and have a frank discussion about the issues affecting New Jersey residents.”
Murphy has promised to tease the audience with some details about the budget when he speaks at the dinner Thursday night. One person whose presence will be missed is former governor and 50-time Chamber train passenger and supreme holder of court, Brendan Byrne. He will be remembered formally at the annual dinner. His frequent co-passenger, wife Ruthi, rode the train, continuing the Byrne tradition.
“He loved the trip. It was his chance to see everybody and say hello to everybody. He was such a man of the people in certain a sense that it was great for him,” she said. “People are still running from me because I want something.”
The current governor was not on the train this year, although he was a frequent topic of discussion. His speech at the dinner is much anticipated and could serve as the official kickoff for an administration that has yet, up to now, defined itself.