The Democratic candidate in the race to replace Gov. Chris Christie already sewed up the endorsement of the state’s largest teachers union. But Phil Murphy took another step toward re-establishing the party’s historic relationship with the union as a core group it can count on. Senior Correspondent David Cruz was there.
Cruz: Ambassador, you said enough with the “shut up and sit down.” Are we going to see a change in tone if there is a Murphy administration. What’s the big difference going to be?
Murphy: Well, as I mentioned, it’s both tone and substance of policy and its got to be both. I was endorsed by teachers of the NJEA last fall and the first person who stood up, I was expecting a question of policy, but it was, “Can we start with a hug?” And that says a lot. I think you heard inside that, among other things, the pipeline for young and new teachers into the profession has started to dry up. They look at a profession where they’re being insulted, vilified. And in addition to that, public education is underfunded, too much teach to the test, uncertainty about the whole package of compensation. This is a calling to these folks, it’s beyond a profession. Some of the stuff is going to take a while, it’s hard policy stuff. But tone doesn’t take a second, that’s a light switch to change.
Cruz: You’re here with the American Federation of Teachers, you mentioned the NJEA, you’ve gotten lots of union support which caused The Star-Ledger to wonder out loud whether or not if you’re going to be able to say no when you have to say no. Particularly as it pertains to something like the cap on arbitration.
Murphy: So, we’re looking, as we said last week, we’re looking at everything we want to come out in the right place — and we will. But, The Star-Ledger talked about property taxes. The biggest problem about property taxes? Public education has been underfunded by $9 billion in the Christie/Guadagno administration, $9 billion.
Cruz: I hear your opponents saying, “There he goes again, adding more money…”
Murphy: We’re committed to getting this right, but we’re committed first and foremost to funding public education.
Cruz: So today, Monday, the Essex County Democrats mentioned that they’re going to endorse Assemblyman Craig Coughlin as the next speaker. Is that something you were involved in, is that something that you agree with?
Murphy: I saw that. We are just where we’ve been all along — we’re not involved in this. We have 71 days, the pesky little detail is we have to get elected so we’re focused, laser-like, on getting elected. We have 71 days left to go. We’re staying out of the leadership stuff. We’re focused on winning an election.
Cruz: Did you hear that the state has agreed to turn over names and address, dates of birth, party affiliation, etc. to the governor’s electoral integrity commission? Is that something you would have done? I’m going to assume that you’re going to say no, and what’s the danger inherent in that?
Murphy: First of all, it’s not the governor’s commission, it’s President Trump’s commission, run by a crackpot. This is built on a complete myth of voter fraud. We have been loud and clear with great passion. We think it’s a huge mistake to hand over this data and we don’t endorse it, we don’t support it. The lieutenant governor has recused herself for reasons I don’t understand, frankly. This is the beginning of narrowing democracy. We stand and we want to open democracy. We want to shed light and make it transparent, we want to open it up. This president would like to shut and close democracy down. It’s un-American and unacceptable, and New Jersey should be ashamed of itself for handing that data over.
Cruz: Is there anything that we can take away from Standard & Poor’s saying the outlook for New Jersey has gone from negative to stable?
Murphy: I hope it keeps going that way. I was happy to see the report. It was specific to the pension plans. We have a long way to go, but that’s obviously a good start. We’ve been downgraded 11 straight times. Last year, our record household, an all-time increase in America, we finished 50 out of 50. We lead the nation on home foreclosures. So any little bit of good news, even saying things are starting to stabilize, as opposed to even grow, which we should be doing, is a step in the right direction. But we have a long way to go.
Cruz: Lastly, as you said, we have 71 days to go. Is there a danger here being so far ahead of some complacency? Democrats being known to stay home sometimes when they think they’re ahead.
Murphy: The last thing we’re going to do is become complacent. We look at what happened in the presidential election last year, the decision by Great Britain to leave the European Union, nobody saw either of those coming. We’re not going to watch that movie again. We’re not taking one thing for granted. We turn over every stone morning, noon and night and we’re laser-focused on trying to win this thing.
Cruz: Alright, Ambassador, thanks.
Murphy: Thank you very much.