In about 50 days, the state’s second-ever lieutenant governor will take the oath of office in an administration that will likely stand in sharp contrast to the Christie years. Lt. Governor-elect Sheila Oliver sat down with Senior Correspondent David Cruz.
Cruz: A lot of people in this state still don’t know a lot about this governor-elect. What’s the top thing that you would want people to know about this governor, particularly as it pertains to his predecessor?
Oliver: I would first say intellectual, and not that our former governor wasn’t “intellectual,” but I find Phil Murphy to be intellectual. I find him to be analytical, a critical thinker, and I find him to be able to engage with all kinds of people. I do not view him as anyone that is egocentric, and I don’t have to tell you, David, you know, often you find a lot of egocentrism in people that operate at that level. But, I think that when he enters a room and he engages with people, he puts people in a place where everyone sitting around the table is equal, and he’s able to relate to people. Many people, you know, during the campaign, you know, during campaigns everything is slung at you, but he is not a Wall Street, you know, financial baron who cannot relate to average people. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he knows what it’s like to come from a working class family, he often describes his father never graduating from high school but his mother did, and just because he has succeeded in life professionally doesn’t mean he has lost the ability, that old quote: “Though you have walked with kings and queens, you never lose the common touch.” That’s how I would describe Phil Murphy to you.
Cruz: And stylistically, just in terms of how he projects his image, it’s going to be a lot different than the guy who’s still our governor.
Oliver: Yes, I think so, and I think people got a glimpse of that election night when he did his infamous hop on the stage. I think that kind of reflected his personality and his ability to laugh at himself. In these kinds of roles you cannot take yourself too seriously, and I think that Phil Murphy is going to bring to the job the appropriate balance in being our governor.
Cruz: At the League of Municipalities last week, I saw you there, and I talked to Democrats and Republicans who expressed some, I guess concern is the most appropriate word, about one party rule. Now, some might say, ‘hey, that’s great everybody, is on the same party and so on,’ but often times that leads to more problems because everybody feels like they’re entitled to something. Do you have any concern about, you know, we’ve already got the Senate president saying that the GOP tax bill might have some impact on the millionaire’s tax, and the new speaker saying that he wasn’t maybe 100 percent on board with marijuana legalization. Is there some danger there that the party might just start beating each other up?
Oliver: Yes, well we often have seen historically one party rule can be problematic. I mean all we have to do is look down to Capitol Hill in D.C. and see that’s not working for us. But, I think that New Jersey is a centrist kind of a state with progressive values. The fact that the Democrats have not been able to move an agenda that reflects the interest of the people for eight years, I do believe that everyone is going to coalesce — Senate, Assembly, governor’s office — to work together because that’s what the people in this state want. So, I think that we will be guided in that direction.
Cruz: Do you feel a need at all to reassure, not only Republicans who find themselves again in the minority, but the business community as a whole, which has had a pretty good friend in the current administration, particularly the corporate business community. Do you feel a need for this administration to reassure those people?
Oliver: I think that Governor[-elect] Murphy based on his life experience, his business experience, he most certainly is going to be able to work with the corporate community in New Jersey. It is a world that he understands and it is a world that he can relate to in terms of what business needs to thrive and grow. And, you know one of his top priorities is growing and expanding the economy in New Jersey, and he is going to do that working in full partnership with the business community. So, I think their fears can be allayed. In terms of my role, you can look historically, legislatively, yes, I am a partisan Democrat, but I have a history of working with my colleagues across the aisle on issues that are important. So, I don’t think anyone in the business community should have reservation or feel that what they need to grow and expand and thrive in this state is going to be impeded by any policies coming out of the State House.
Cruz: Last question, there’s a new speaker in the Assembly after what could have been a contentious fight turned out to be smooth out at the end there. What’s your advice to Assemblyman [Craig] Coughlin?
Oliver: Well, I will be out of his hair, which will give him a little relief because I’m known to be very aggressive in our caucus around issues. But, I would encourage the speaker to engage everyone to not buy into cliques within the Assembly. Yes, we have a huge majority, 54 members. But, that does not mean that we do not acknowledge that there are members on the Republican side of the aisle that were duly elected by constituencies and there is an opportunity to work with them. If you talk to the “old timers” from Trenton, they will tell you that there was once a time in Trenton where there were collaborative relationships between Democrats and Republicans. Former Speaker Joe Roberts encouraged every quarter that we all sat down and had dinner together to get to know one another so that we can gain insight from the other person. You know, when I was a speaker and we had Hurricane Sandy, I took busloads of legislators down to Ocean and Monmouth County so they can see upfront the devastation that happens. So, when it came time to have to pass legislation to help that region, no one would become a regional partisan in terms of doing things to help the people in the businesses that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy.