New Jersey’s Progressive Trump


Julio Cortez/AP

Josh Lehrer

With a resounding 56% of the state vote share, Phil Murphy became governor-elect of of New Jersey last week. His victory effectively earned Democrats of the state a mandate by retaining their large majority in both houses of the State Legislature. Not noticeable to some, though, is that Phil Murphy’s electoral success is taken from a playbook similar to that of the current occupant of the Oval Office, Donald J. Trump. Namely, although he served a government position as U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Phil Murphy has never held elected office, and earned millions working on Wall Street in the private sector at companies like Goldman Sachs.

This is important to consider, for his Democratic primary opponents and Republican opponent, Lt. Governor Kim Guadnago, slammed him for being too cozy with Wall Street. One key quote from November 2016 is exemplified by Democratic primary opponent Assemblyman John Wisniewski of Sayreville, who stated “I’m not a Wall Street executive. I haven’t made hundreds of millions of dollars by outsourcing jobs. I’ve learned the value of public service.” Nevertheless, Murphy sought to distance himself from this potential liability by supplementing his campaign with millions from his personal fortune. He also refused “dark money” while fundraising from outside donors. Trump employed similar tactics during his campaign in self-funding his run and portraying his GOP primary opponents and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as pawns of Wall Street and special interests, while claiming he was a self-made man. Yes, the personalities of both men are starkly different, but their ability to distance themselves from their amassed personal wealth demonstrates clear similarities.

Now, with full and overwhelming Democratic control of the state, the governor-elect and the NJ State Legislature will be able to sweepingly address progressive causes, such as legalizing recreational marijuana, further seeking to reform gun laws, declaring NJ a “sanctuary state,” and raising the state minimum wage to $15 per hour. He also wants to institute a state bank not only to attract new business, but also to give out loans to NJ students.

In many ways, this is relevant to Vanderbilt. According to data from the university, a whopping 345 first-year students this year are from NJ, nearly ten percent of the incoming class. For a state that makes makes up only three percent of the U.S population, that amount concentrated at Vanderbilt is impressive. Such proposals, like the state bank idea to issue loans to NJ students for college, may grant more affordable access to elite schools such as Vanderbilt. To those that may not have considered it, it may also add a protective layer for undocumented “Dreamers” here on campus who fear deportation if the federal government does not pass a law by March 2018 allowing them to stay. This would result if NJ finds a constitutional way to be uncooperative with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency by acting as a “sanctuary state.” That would mean when undocumented Vanderbilt students return home to NJ, the state would effectively shield them from ICE detainment after being if arrested by local police departments. Moreover, the increase of the state minimum wage may mean that students who go back to NJ to work during summers and other breaks could come back with the prospect of a some savings after a summer job and/or internship if the minimum wage is hiked to $15 per hour, if provided room and board. These are all largely positive outcomes for prospective or current Vanderbilt students.

Phil Murphy’s campaign for NJ governor shows that someone like Trump, who has never held elected office, still appeals to a large swath of voters. Needless to say, it provides a large contrast to the darker themes that Trump ran on in 2016, though, such as vague isolationist and nationalistic policies. It shows a different way for a novice to politics to win elections without negativity and pessimism. That is to say, running on rather progressive priorities that seek help lower income individuals, as opposed to Trump’s portrayal of an America overcome by carnage and disaster.

Despite Phil Murphy never holding elected office, his prospects of succeeding in getting most of his policy proposals into law are much more foreseeable. For one, the Democrats now hold almost a ⅔ majority in the State Legislature. This is far more than the narrowness of the majority Republicans hold on Capitol Hill, which has undoubtedly proved an obstacle to getting Trump’s agenda implemented. While only time will tell, a Trump-like figure with a positive demeanor and more precise policy goals may be able to help turn around a state that has been overseen for the past eight years by one the most unpopular governors in the state’s, if not the entire country’s, history. And this is relevant for Vanderbilt students who hail from NJ, 13-14 hours away, even if they currently call Nashville their “home away from home.”