Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy has never been shy about criticizing President Donald Trump and the atmosphere he has created around the country, but with under two weeks to go until election day, he left no room for ambiguity.
“Leadership, more in the White House than anywhere else,” is responsible for the rise in anti-Semitism, Murphy said in an interview with NJJN. “The leaders give people a permission slip for the way to behave…[because they give] the impression that in Charlottesville there were good people on both sides” and those who harbor hate “feel they have got latitude to behave in ways that are not morally upstanding.”
His comments came after an Oct. 22 campaign appearance at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston. On Nov. 7, he will face off against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) in a race that is considered to be not just a referendum on current N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, but on Trump himself.
He told the audience of 125 people that the relationship between the discourse in Washington and the recent outbreaks of anti-Semitism in New Jersey and elsewhere are “troubling.”
Murphy said he understands how difficult these incidents can be, in part because of his close relationship with the Jewish community. As the United States ambassador to Germany between 2009 and 2013, Murphy said he was frequently in contact with the Jews there, and his five trips to Israel have reinforced his personal ties with the Jewish state.
In the run-up to the election, Murphy said he is worried. Worried about the local economy; worried about a lack of firearm regulations; and worried that election projections citing him as the winner are premature.
Although he’s been consistently ahead in the polls — anywhere between six to 16 points — they also note that some 15 percent of potential voters remain undecided.
Murphy said that the number of undecideds was “shockingly large,” lamenting that not enough New Jerseyans are following the campaign. He blamed the media’s focus on the national stage.
“In this whole Trump era it is hard to fight for any space in the newspaper,” he said.
Considering the contentious congressional battles, “one hurricane after another, the horrible fire in California, the bribery trial of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and the mass murders in Las Vegas,” he said “We are fighting for space. We are fighting for share of mind. We can’t take anything for granted.”
In a 40-minute speech that focused largely on state issues and the need to restore what he considers vital services after eight years of the Republican Christie administration, he said New Jersey “is not in a place where it should be.”
“We stand for a stronger, fairer economy that works for every New Jersey family. Period.” He called that “the mirror image” of the current reality. “We have become profoundly unfair, and when the economy does work, it works for a very narrow slice.”
He cited Massachusetts, which he suggested was the leading candidate for Amazon’s new headquarters, and said it was due to the Bay State being far ahead of New Jersey in producing “things that Amazon is looking for”— international airports, light rail infrastructure, and public education. “They are making those adjacent investments in Massachusetts and we’re not,” he said.
He called for closing “big corporate tax loopholes that lots of other states have closed,” and legalizing marijuana. He also talked about the disparity in which lenient sentences for non-violent drug offenses are enforced for white people versus the greater amount of prison time for people of color. (In New Jersey, people of color are incarcerated at 12 times the rate of white residents, according to a June 2016 study by the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. In the Garden State fewer than 15 percent of the residents are African-American, yet they make up more than 60 percent of the state’s prison population.)
Asking for support “to be governor of the state we used to be,” Murphy said he wanted to restore a description of New Jersey as “a state that is fair, respected, and trusted, that does both big things and stands for smart government.”
“Just because you are progressive doesn’t mean you are a drunken sailor, left-wing lunatic,” he said. “We can be a proud progressive beacon again” on things like funding Planned Parenthood, signing “a whole series of gun safety laws” that were previously vetoed by Christie, and accepting “the sad reality of climate change and doing something about it” by adopting green energy plans “that include a whole big dose of offshore wind.”
He said the state needs a governor “with a steel backbone, and an attorney general with a steel backbone, standing up to a lot of the stuff that is coming at us.”
Noting that New Jersey has large Jewish, Muslim, Latino, African-American, and South Asian communities, Murphy said “If something is happening in Washington we are going to be impacted negatively” because of the state’s large immigrant and minority populations.
Murphy pledged “we are not going to be silent” if the state is negatively affected by a tax cut bill or “the complete breakdown of moral authority that we saw in Charlottesville, or the immigrant ‘dreamers’ who are as American as my four kids and are being shown the door, or after the shootings in Las Vegas you hear ‘Now is not the time to talk about gun safety,’ [but] we are not going to be silent.”
With regard to property tax reduction, Murphy proposed that adjacent towns consolidate public schools and other government services for cost-saving measures in municipal budgets.
“We think there is a lot of appetite for that,” he said.
Additionally, he said, New Jersey “leads the nation in exporting high school and college seniors.” It is, he said, “a damnation of the environment we have built for young people.”