Phil Murphy’s first hurdle in 2024: New Jersey Democrats

“I think they realized after last year that the mood was different than it was two years ago,” Sen. Dick Codey, a former governor often allied with Murphy, said in an interview. .

Elected a year into Donald Trump’s presidency in 2017, Murphy held up New Jersey as a beacon for alienated progressives. After Trump’s 2020 defeat, Murphy focused on contrasting state policies with the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, which on Thursday struck down a key New York gun law and voted Friday to cancel it. Roe vs. Wade.

Murphy called the decision to cancel roe deer “Backward and dreadful.”

Murphy’s political allies, including his wife, Tammy, are spending millions to bolster his image in the state with a super PAC and black money nonprofit group, which many see as a glimpse of ambitions Governor’s Nationals. He also takes the helm of the Democratic Governors Association in 2023 for the second time.

Murphy cannot run for a third consecutive term and, therefore, is free to focus on social issues that affect a national Democratic audience in early primary states. New Jersey legislators, all of whom are re-elected in 2023 on a new district map that gives Republicans their best chance in 20 years to gain control, don’t have that luxury.

Murphy last year became New Jersey’s first Democratic governor to be re-elected since 1977. But he did so by a much narrower margin than expected, winning by just 3 points. The Democratic-led Legislature fared worse, suffering a net loss of seven seats in both chambers, including the shock upset of former Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney. This reduced the party majorities to 24-16 in the State Senate and 46-34 in the General Assembly.

The Legislative Assembly passed a bill expanding access to abortion at the end of the last session in January, but with only two votes to spare – and only after having significantly reduced it compared to the bill that Murphy and abortion advocates had been pushing. The law primarily enshrines in New Jersey law abortion rights already recognized by state courts, with few practical steps to increase access.

Anticipating Friday’s decision on abortion, Murphy was pushing for a new bill with provisions that were removed from the measure he signed, including mandating abortion insurance coverage, eliminating out-of-pocket expenses for the procedure, and codification a state regulation that expands the types of medical providers who can perform abortions.

But it’s not going anywhere. The ousting of Sweeney, a fiscally conservative Democrat who often rivaled Murphy, was well received within the Murphy administration and by progressives. But incoming Senate Speaker Nick Scutari has publicly blamed Democrats’ positions that were “too out of step” for their legislative losses.

“We passed what we could pass when I was there. Now you have one member less [in the Senate]Sweeney said in a phone interview. “The President of the Senate said it correctly: it is settled. We settled it last session. It’s all we can do with it, and I think we actually have it in the right place.

Murphy is also pushing gun regulations and encountering similar hesitation from fellow Democrats.

He said on Friday he wanted to ban guns in many settings, including public transportation, places serving alcohol, hospitals, daycares, stadiums and government buildings, which would require a new legislation. He also announced a more immediate executive order that requires state government agencies to begin reviewing laws and regulations that would allow them to restrict where firearms can be taken.

“Allowing ordinary citizens to carry concealed weapons in stores and malls, on public transport, in day care centers and hospitals, in polling places or in bars and restaurants does not make us safer”, Murphy said at a news conference in Trenton. “The right to carry a concealed weapon is, in fact, a recipe for tragedy.”

Scutari was initially reluctant to advance several gun control measures proposed by Murphy that had stalled under Sweeney, only dropping some of the bills late in budget talks this month but still refusing to d to consider a bill to raise the purchase age for guns from 18 to 21.

Scutari and State Assembly Speaker, Democrat Craig Coughlin, oppose moving the abortion access bill, and there is little appetite in their own caucuses for the TO DO.

“There aren’t enough votes,” Scutari told reporters recently.

With abortion, Democratic state lawmakers fear they could energize the right wing of an already volatile electorate ahead of the midterm elections and next year’s statewide elections, which are expected to see a weak rate of participation. Even former state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat who pushed the abortion access bill before her retirement in January, failed to see the urgency of go further than the law signed by Murphy.

“I believe that in terms of choice, the legislature did what was urgent and what was most important. We have codified a woman’s right to choose,” she said in a phone interview.

George Norcross, the Democratic power broker in South Jersey, where Democrats were hardest hit in the Legislative Assembly last year, held two well-attended conclaves during which he reviewed polling data and discussion groups. He urged Democrats to focus on taxes, inflation and jobs – a clear direction to avoid social problems.

There are signs that Murphy received the same message.

The nonprofit organization run by its allies, Stronger Fairer Forward, has so far limited its advertising spending in New Jersey and focused on the property tax relief programs the governor has developed with the Legislative Assembly and the governor’s own promise, at the end of his re-election campaign last year, not to raise more taxes.

But Murphy continued to promote progressive policies on abortion and guns. At one point, he challenged legislative leaders to bring to a vote all gun-related bills introduced, including by conservative lawmakers, while accusing Republicans of taking “blood money.” and implicitly calling on Democratic legislative leaders to refuse.

This is far from the first time that the priorities of the Legislature have come into conflict with those of the Governor.

Murphy, who ran for office pledging to legalize recreational cannabis, could not convince lawmakers to pass a legalization bill. Instead, they threw the question to voters in the form of a referendum on the constitutional amendment that garnered 68 percent of the vote, winning majorities in nearly every city in New Jersey.

But even after the referendum was approved, it still took lawmakers months of painful negotiations to hammer out the actual legalization framework.

“Just, generally speaking, I think the legislature is more timid than conservative,” Weinberg said.

Scutari and Coughlin did not respond to requests for comment.