The big, left-leaning tent of New Jersey’s progressive elite was full to capacity Friday morning, as New Jersey Policy Perspective held its second annual conference, this year called “Building a More Just and Fair New Jersey.” Sound familiar? It’s been the mantra of the Murphy administration and reflects the state of the progressive movement, that is, on the inside. But despite some obvious progressive victories for the administration, not all is swell when you look behind the current happy faces.
“First and foremost, I will say that I am heartened to see that there’s at least a joint recognition that there is a problem in New Jersey, that for the last eight years, we were on the wrong course and that there is a need for course correction,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families.
The change, of course, has been obvious so far in the governor’s executive orders and policy shifts, but the true proof of course correction is in budget priorities. In that regard, the season is now in full swing and divergent paths are inevitable, even with all the players wearing the same uniform.
“The requirements for doing all the things we now know need to get done in New Jersey are so great that the idea that we can take care of them in one year is a false idea, and contending with that makes it more difficult for the governor and for the Legislature to come to grips with that fact and figure out what can be done in the first year,” said Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective.
And that fierce urgency of now is further strained by what many insiders admit is a lack of constructive contact between leaders in the Legislature and the executive branch. One veteran leader called it disconcerting.
“Yes, I think that was quite an accurate quote,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “I just think we need more communication directly with the chief executive of our state.”
The result so far? A comparatively slow approval process for the governor’s Cabinet, and divergence on revenue generators. But, according to many observers, it’s been complicated by unforced errors from a young, inexperienced executive branch staff.
“I don’t want to be someone who discourages young people from being involved. I’m thrilled they’re over there. I think it’s a balance of all things. I think it’s dealing with each other with respect, taking the ideas of this bright town of group of young people that are passionate about government, sharing our historical perspective. What works, what doesn’t work and how do you find compromise and diplomacy through this process,” said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald.
That kind of diplomacy is going to be needed in order for this progressive electoral victory not to turn into a sour estrangement among politicos of similar stripes.
“I think that it would be foolhardy for any governor, or any Senate president or any Assembly speaker to believe that they can get the job done that needs to get done if they’re not in regular communication,” said MacInnes.
It’ll get done, insist the leaders. And for Friday, anyway, the afternoon’s keynote speaker got a hero’s welcome.
“At long last, you have a governor and a leadership team in place who recognizes that we can’t keep playing to the next election. We have to create a stronger and fairer New Jersey that will stand the test of time and the test of the next generation,” said Murphy.
The honeymoon may not be over, but anyone who’s been there will tell you, a successful marriage takes a lot of work.