NJ governor rebuffs Republican critique over being ‘woke’

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Inviting a national political spotlight, New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday took implicit aim at GOP rivals who criticize blue states for being “woke” while also calling for responsible government and bipartisanship in his annual state of the state address.

Murphy marked his fifth state of the state Tuesday before a joint session of the Democrat-led Legislature, which faces an election this year, and as jockeying ahead of next year’s presidential contest unfolds.

He didn’t mention Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 White House contender, by name but alluded to his recent second inaugural address in which he said Florida is where “woke goes to die.”

“Some governors boast that their state is where ‘woke goes to die.’ I’m not sure I know what that’s supposed to mean,” Murphy said, adding that “the American Dream is alive and well” in New Jersey. He pointed to the state’s 3.4% unemployment rate, slightly lower than the federal level, a burgeoning film production and tax credit industry and key regional infrastructure projects.

“It’s cool to be from New Jersey again,” Murphy added.

Murphy has responded to questions about a possible presidential candidacy by saying he would back President Joe Biden if he runs for reelection next year, leaving open the possibility he could consider running.

He drew other contrasts with GOP-led states.

Invoking tax incentive programs in Florida and Georgia aimed at attracting businesses, Murphy claimed New Jersey’s third quarter of 2022 economic output outpaced their performance.

“Our clear record of success is greater than that of states that pay for huge tax breaks for the wealthiest and most powerful by taking away investments from public education and civic programs,” Murphy said.

Unlike last year’s state of the state declaration that he was “boldly progressive,” Murphy called for bipartisanship and “reasonable, responsible government.” It’s a bit of a tone shift that comes as legislative Democrats face reelection after Murphy’s own close victory in 2021.

He touted his work alongside Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox at the National Governors Association, saying that state and national politics needs less contempt and more friendship.

“Let us never forget that in the grand ranking of things we are partisans fourth, elected officials third, New Jerseyans second, and Americans first and foremost,” Murphy said.

While he called for working with Republicans, his major accomplishments so far, like raising taxes on the wealthy, passing new gun control legislation, legalizing recreational marijuana and boosting funding for abortion services, were passed by the Democrat-dominated Legislature.

New Jersey Republicans viewed the speech as a scene-setter for a possible presidential run and criticized Murphy’s administration amid high inflation.

“Today’s speech particularly showed the importance of electing Republican majorities in the state legislature this year to place a badly-needed check on Murphy’s governorship and to stop his presidential campaign dead in its tracks,” state GOP spokesperson Alexandra Wilkes said.

While the governor seemed to aim partly for a national audience, he also included plenty of state-level detail in the nearly hour-long address.

He unveiled a proposal to overhaul the state’s Prohibition-era liquor license system for restaurants.

Because the state’s liquor license laws restrict permits to one for every 3,000 residents, restaurateurs often pay dearly — up to seven figures — for such a license. That system shuts out many who can’t afford the cost, he said.

Murphy called for gradually expanding the number of licenses until such restrictions are eliminated, and to compensate those who spent much for a license, he called for a “targeted tax credit.”

He unveiled what he called a “Boardwalk Fund” to pay for upgrades to the shore’s well-known seaside walkways, but with scant detail.

He told lawmakers he we would sign legislation that would tighten laws against auto theft if they sent him such a measure and he touted a property tax relief program enacted last year that he has said he wants to continue this year.

An emotional high point came when Murphy announced that four Ukrainian military service members who were receiving treatment in the United States were in the Assembly chamber. Lawmakers stood and applauded before Murphy intoned “Slava Ukraini” or glory to Ukraine.

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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