Newly elected Assembly speaker addresses caucus

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

State Assembly Democrats emerged from their closed door caucus with a new speaker, Craig Coughlin of Woodbridge.

“I want to thank my colleagues for their support and confidence that they expressed this morning,” the speaker-elect said.

Coughlin said this was the first wave of new leaders and assignments. Lou Greenwald of Voorhees will do another term as majority leader.

“We are very proud that this caucus will return its largest majority in modern time,” Greenwald said.

Shavonda Sumter of Paterson returns as majority conference leader.

“We will improve the quality of life for all New Jerseyans and I’m excited to be back. It’s time for us to get to work,” she said.

Eliana Pintor Marin of Newark replaces Gary Schaer as budget chair.

“We are in a very high fiscal need of being able to be creative and thinking of innovative ideas,” Pintor Marin said.

The new leadership says it’s time to grow New Jersey’s economy and it’s forming a new committee.

“The Science, Technology and Information Committee will create legislation designed to put New Jersey in the forefront of emerging industries, utilizing the terrific universities, high schools and business leaders that we have here in this state,” Coughlin said. “This is something that is of real importance to me.”

Re-elected Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker is a physicist who repeated the governor-elect that New Jersey was Silicon Valley before Silicon Valley was Silicon Valley.

“And when you look at this you say, ‘Well, wait a minute, where are the jobs of the 21st Century?’ These are jobs for all education levels, all income levels and these are jobs that have a career ladder,” Zwicker said.

But the new Assembly leader seemed noncommittal on growing the economy by legalizing marijuana.

“We’ll consider the bill and then we’ll make the right the decision,” Coughlin said.

On the millionaire’s tax that the Senate president said he’d tackle on day one, Coughlin said, “What’s going to be our guiding principle is doing what’s right and best for the working, middle class people of New Jersey. That’s the top legislative priority.”

On raising the minimum wage to $15, Coughlin said, “That is an important step, and how we get there, that is something we need to look at thoroughly.”

Coughlin said he plans to revisit bills the governor vetoed on equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave and sane gun control. He said his new position requires he works with the other side of the aisle and that he leads by consensus.

“I think that is a good message for the speaker coming in to look for consensus,” said Democratic strategist Bill Caruso.

The new leaders officially take over Jan. 9 2018.