How Covid-19 Made This Governor The USA’s Most Powerful

Drumthwacket, Princeton, New Jersey, the official residence of the Governor of New Jersey. | KForce, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sep 8, 2020

TRENTON — New Jersey endows its governors with the most executive power in the nation.

Chris Christie knew it and used that broad authority to become a hero of the Republican Party — a state-level strongman who forced Democrats to do his will or face his wrath.

Few thought Phil Murphy, his Democratic successor, would consolidate that power even further. Murphy struggled early on to move his progressive agenda through the solidly Democratic Legislature. Rival factions formed to oppose him. His signature proposal — a new tax on millionaires — was rejected twice.

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Now, six months into a global pandemic that’s shattered the state’s economy and killed roughly 16,000 residents, Murphy has become one of the most popular governors in New Jersey history — and discovered just how much say he has over the state and its government.

The question is, how long can it last?

Phil Murphy, cc-by-2.0

With immense emergency powers afforded under New Jersey’s constitution, the one-time Goldman Sachs partner has almost unchecked sway over how the state navigates the most complex public health and economic challenge in a century.

Every 30 days for the last six months, Murphy has re-upped a state-of-emergency order that’s allowed him to bypass the Legislature and normal rulemaking procedures. Businesses were directed to close.

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Evictions and foreclosures have been suspended. Should it come to it, the state could confiscate privately held medical supplies.

Covid-19 will remain a public health threat for the foreseeable future. And now, six months into the pandemic, few expect Murphy to give up his powers, even if they’d like him to.

“We shut the government down to get control on this. Clearly, the administration has a good handle on this now and we need to go back to how we were governing prior,” state Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat and Murphy’s main rival in Trenton, said in an interview … Read more. 

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