TRENTON – Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat and former Wall Street banker who has never before held elected office, pledged in his inaugural address as New Jersey governor Tuesday to resist what he called President Trump’s “unrelenting assault on our values.”
Murphy, 60, was sworn in as the state’s 56th governor amid a cannon salute outside the Trenton War Memorial and other traditional pageantry that accompanies the transfer of power in the capital.
“We must reject the president’s dark belief of an America in decline and in carnage,” Murphy said, referring to Trump’s own inaugural address. “Let there be no doubt: Ours is an imperfect, but great, nation.”
Democrats already control both houses of the Legislature, and November’s election of Murphy to succeed Republican Chris Christie as governor positioned New Jersey at the forefront of some states’ efforts to fight the Trump administration.
Murphy, of Middletown, Monmouth County, said his administration would protect unauthorized immigrants brought to the country by their parents, and fight federal efforts to “gut health care” and enable drilling off the coast of the New Jersey Shore.
Murphy also took a swipe at Trump for his incendiary recent remarks about immigrants, saying America is “a place where immigrants still come in hope of a better future — and that includes from Haiti and from the continent of Africa.”
While New Jersey Democrats may be united in wanting to confront Trump, Murphy’s relationship with key power players like Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) is already strained. Recently, Sweeney lashed out at Murphy when he appeared to kill a lame-duck legislative deal to bail out a nuclear power plant in Sweeney’s district.
As if to underscore the treacherous political terrain that awaited Murphy, flooding from the Delaware River closed roads near the Statehouse on Tuesday, causing traffic delays.
Christie was masterful at playing the Trenton game during his two terms as one of the most recognizable and colorful political figures in the country.
“The work of our administration will be about you, your families, and your communities,” Murphy told hundreds of supporters, lawmakers, lobbyists, and others. “We will never lose sight that we are one state and one family, with different beliefs but common dreams, and that we do not succeed unless we all succeed together.”
Murphy did not shy away from the progressive platform he campaigned on. Before he walked on stage, music by the Grateful Dead and Bob Marley blared from the speakers.
Murphy pledged to legalize marijuana as part of a broader reform of the criminal justice system, called for free community college, and asked the Legislature to immediately send him bills that would fund Planned Parenthood, nearly double the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and “strengthen our gun laws.”
Hours after his inauguration, Murphy signed an executive order aimed at closing the pay gap that he said would prohibit state agencies from asking prospective job applicants about their wage history or investigating their previous salaries.
During his 34-minute address Tuesday morning, the new governor didn’t directly address the state’s most pressing issues, such as its underfunded retirement plans for public workers. But Murphy pledged to adopt a “budget that is balanced fiscally and morally” and send “a loud and clear message that our days of muddling through from crisis to crisis are over.”
Murphy set an inclusive tone for his administration — pointing to his diverse senior staff standing on stage behind him, among them the nation’s first Sikh attorney general, Gurbir Grewal — and said the public had “rejected the politics of division.”
“There is no ambiguity in their mandate: They voted to build a stronger and fairer New Jersey that works for every New Jersey family,” he said.
With Murphy’s inauguration, New Jersey joins a handful of states where Democrats control both the governor’s mansion and the legislature.
During the swearing-in ceremony, Murphy placed his left hand on the same Bible that was used during President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, according to his administration. Murphy, who grew up outside Boston, frequently cites the Kennedys in speeches as inspirational figures, and did so again on Tuesday.
Among the dignitaries on stage behind him were his wife, Tammy, and their four children, Josh, Emma, Charlie, and Sam; Christie and his wife, Mary Pat; Sweeney; Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin; U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez; and Christie’s lieutenant governor, Republican Kim Guadagno, whom Murphy defeated in November.
Murphy, who campaigned as the anti-Christie in style and substance, was gracious toward his predecessor, praising his leadership in fighting the opioid epidemic and thanking him for his public service. The men shook hands on stage.
During last year’s campaign, Murphy said he would “fully fund” schools and public workers’ pensions and spend more on public transportation, but it’s unclear how he’ll accomplish all of that.
Murphy had been counting on raising taxes on millionaires for a projected $600 million in annual revenue, but Sweeney appeared to scuttle that plan after Trump signed a federal tax overhaul that is expected to hurt filers in high-tax states like New Jersey and New York.
On Tuesday, the governor signaled he would still like to raise taxes on the rich. “A stronger and fairer New Jersey ensures the wealthiest among us pay their fair share in taxes so working and middle-class families can keep more of their hard-earned money,” Murphy said.
State GOP Chairman Doug Steinhardt said Democratic control in Trenton limited his party’s ability to thwart what he called Murphy’s “radical liberal agenda.”
“Now more than ever, New Jersey’s citizens must be vigilant,” Steinhardt said in a statement. “They must keep close watch on the Murphy administration and hold it accountable. New Jersey’s taxpayers cannot afford to be the personal piggy bank for his liberal policies.”
Also sworn in Tuesday was Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, a Democrat and former Assembly speaker from Newark, who became the first woman of color to hold statewide elected office in New Jersey. “I recognize that while these moments are historic,” she said, “we make history not in the moment but in what we do with it.”