POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Murphy makes good on first promise: A diverse cabinet

BY Mary Alice Williams, Anchor |

“We begin by having a Cabinet and leadership team in place that looks like the state that we now proudly serve. This was my and Sheila’s first promise, and it has been kept,” said a newly sworn-in Gov. Phil Murphy.

Murphy will have the most diverse Cabinet in the state’s history. Nine of his 17 Cabinet picks so far are people of color. Eight are women.

Starting with Sheila Oliver, his lieutenant governor. Murphy has tapped his second in command to lead the Department of Community Affairs.

Murphy’s attorney general pick is historic. Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal is the first South Asian attorney general in state history and the first Sikh in the nation to serve as a state’s attorney general.

The historic relevance of his nomination is not lost on Grewal. At a press conference to announce his appointment he addressed his daughters, “As someone who has experienced hate and intolerance first-hand throughout my life, I wanted to work to ensure that we all live in, and that the three of you grow up in, a fair and just society.”

Murphy’s picked Jemal J. Beale to lead the New Jersey National Guard and the state’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Beale will be the first minority to lead the New Jersey National Guard.

His choice for health commissioner, Shereef Elnahal, would be the first Muslim-American cabinet member in New Jersey history if confirmed by the state, according to Murphy’s transition team. Elnahal is a doctor and official at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Obama appointed him to the agency in 2015.

Two more cabinet picks are also former Obama officials.

Murphy tapped former U.S. Labor Department official under Obama, Robert Asaro-Angelo, to head the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Carole Johnson was senior health care policy adviser in the White House under President Obama. She’s been appointed commissioner of the Department of Human Services.

“It has long been said that the true values of a community can be seen in how it protects its most vulnerable residents,” said Murphy.

Murphy has chosen Christine Norbut Beyer to head the Department of Children and Families. Beyer is a former director of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, or DYFS, which has been renamed DCF.

“I’m asking both Carole and Christine to be the voices for those New Jerseyans who have no one else to speak on their behalf,” said Murphy.

Three of Christie’s cabinet members are staying on. Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan has served in Christie’s Cabinet since March 2010.

Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher has been in office since Christie’s Democratic predecessor, John Corzine was in office.

Jared Maples, Christie’s acting director of Homeland Security and Preparedness, is also set to stay.

The governorship is the first elected office that Murphy has ever held. He’s still largely an unknown quantity politically. But Murphy is surrounding himself with veteran lawmakers.

Democratic Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio is his pick to be state treasurer. Muoio serves on the Assembly Budget Committee, experience Murphy calls invaluable as the new administration awaits the potential impact of federal tax reform and decides how to address the state’s huge fiscal obstacles, including funding public worker pension programs.

“Our municipalities and their residents need relief. They need to know that taxes can be brought under control, that their infrastructure is sound, that they can count on a quality education for their children,” said Muoio.

Muoio would be the second woman confirmed as state treasurer.

Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, who was born to Cuban immigrant parents, would be the first Hispanic to lead the Department of Banking and Insurance.

Catherine McCabe, his pick to head the Department of Environmental Protection, has a CV that ranges from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Justice.

“We have no more time to waste,” said McCabe. “Now’s the time to take action both to help lead the way in helping to slow climate change and adapting to make our communities more resilient.”

Another woman with a gold-plated resume is set to head up the Department of Transportation. Former New Jersey Turnpike Authority Executive Director Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti is tasked with a major challenge. The governor has made his frustration with NJ Transit known, calling the agency a “national disgrace.”

“If there are jobs where people aren’t performing, then we need to deal with that. We need to make certain that we have people in the right seats on the bus,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

Asbury Park Schools Superintendent Lamont Repollet will, if confirmed, steer New Jersey’s 678 school districts through major reforms on Murphy’s agenda. That includes replacing the unpopular PARCC achievement test. As governor, Christie frequently called out Asbury Park for having the most expensive per-student cost of any district in the state. But Murphy commended Repollet for his work in the district and noted the high school graduation rate rose from 49 to 73 percent last year.

“What Dr. Repollet has accomplished is nothing short of a turnaround,” said Murphy.

Murphy has tapped former Passaic County Freeholder Tahesha Way for Secretary of State. That job carries a broad portfolio, including oversight of the state’s $44 billion tourism industry, and artistic, cultural and historical programs. But she’d also be the state’s chief election official, with a mandate from Murphy to expand voter access.

While Murphy has stacked his cabinet with seasoned professionals, it’s not clear how prominent a role they’ll play. Will he put them front and center when addressing policy issues in their purview, or will he follow Christie’s lead?

In his exit interview with NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron, Christie addressed the role his own cabinet played.

“Your cabinet officers were not as prominent as cabinet officers were in other administrations. You preferred to speak, more or less, with one voice, your voice,” asked Aron.

Christie replied, “I made it clear to my cabinet officers that they had the ability to see me anytime they wanted, and tell me anything they wanted to tell me, and argue whatever point of view they wanted to argue. But then I’m the governor. I decide, and then they implement. And if what I’ve asked them to do is something that they’re fundamentally or principally opposed to, then they can leave. I just think that’s a disciplined way to run a government.”

Phil Murphy may run his government differently.