TRENTON, NJ (AP) — Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was inaugurated for a second term on Tuesday. Taking the oath of office under strict COVID-19 testing, vaccination and masking requirements, he explained that New Jersey’s progressive policies could work statewide.
Murphy was re-elected in a close race in November and became the first Democrat to win re-election in more than four decades. He won in part because of a series of gains he and the Democrat-led legislature made, including a higher minimum wage, legalization of recreational marijuana, and paid sick leave.
The speech comes after record spikes in coronavirus cases and hospitalization rates, led by the Omicron variant, although government data over the past few days shows dips in those numbers. The speech also coincides with President Joe Biden’s struggle to get parts of his agenda through Congress, where Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate.
Murphy made a number of self-proclaimed progressive political gains in his first term, pledging on Tuesday to pursue additional tougher gun control measures, an expansion of preschool education for 3-year-olds and additional funding for K-12 education to ease pressure on the ground Governments imposing property taxes.
He said the country could look to New Jersey for a workable policy, though he didn’t elaborate that New Jersey tends to be more democratic than the nation.
“If you want to know what the future holds, if you want to understand what America can be, come to New Jersey,” he said.
He campaigned as a vocal progressive, warning at campaign stops that a GOP victory would push the pro-Democratic state much further to the right than many of its residents.
On Tuesday, he wanted to put the divisive language behind him.
“I renew my promise to be governor for all of New Jersey, governor for everyone who voted for me and for everyone who didn’t,” he said.
Murphy’s narrow victory gave Democrats a boost but was bittersweet for the party, which lost former Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney in his southern New Jersey district as well as six seats in the state legislature. Republicans have also won a new seat in the Senate.
Republicans have taken the election as a sign that voters are tired of Democratic control of the state, which has 1 million more Democrats than Republicans. They argue that Democrats have overstepped COVID-19 countermeasures and made the state costly due to high taxes and other business regulations.
On Tuesday, Republican Party Chairman Bob Hugin urged Murphy to work with the GOP to make the state more affordable, among other party goals.
Murphy and Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari said they heard voters’ message loud and clear: they want the state to become more affordable. New Jersey has one of the highest property and corporate taxes in the country.
Murphy focused part of his state-of-the-state address last week on affordability, arguing specifically that the policy he pursued in his first term helped make the state more taxpayer-friendly: expanding the taxpayer-funded Preschool, which made community college similarly free for some residents, along with the gradual introduction of a $15 an hour minimum wage.
The swearing-in ceremony at the art deco war memorial in the state capital was scaled back, and attendees were required to show proof of vaccinations and boosters, as well as a negative coronavirus test. Masks were also compulsory inside.
Masks are not compulsory in most places in the state, but there are exceptions for state buildings, schools and daycares. Some companies still ask customers to dress up.
Outside the venue, makeshift tents for COVID-19 check-ins replaced a battery of military cannons that fired a salute four years ago.
There was also a field of about 3,000 miniature American flags, each representing about 10 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, Murphy said. He, his family and Lt. gov. Sheila Oliver paid tribute to the deceased in a brief ceremony after the inauguration.
Oliver took the oath alongside Murphy. She is the state’s second lieutenant governor, a post created after Senate speakers have had to step in to serve as governor for the past nearly two decades.
Also on stage were former governors, including Murphy’s immediate predecessor, Republican Chris Christie, and Democrat Jon Corzine.