By Matt Rooney
When I decided to do a “worst legislator of the year” post, Save Jerseyans, I originally envisioned giving you a top ten list of the worst assemblymen and senators of 2020, their crazy legislative proposals, and all of the ways that they’ve made your life expensive, complicated, and less free than it was before they arrived in Trenton.
Then I remembered that 2020 is sadly a one issue year. The reaction to COVID-19 has dominated everything and anything, and it’s likely that governmental responses to the novel Chinese-born (or manufactured?) virus will shape our political landscape for years to come. Perhaps forever. Think about it: many aspects of American life have never recovered from 9/11/01. I expect this will be worse.
With all of that grim background in mind, the “worst legislators of 2020” award boiled down to a fairly simple decision and a correspondingly unsurprising result:
Steve Sweeney and Craig Coughlin.
New Jersey’s Senate President (the former) and Assembly Speaker (the latter) set the agenda in their respective chambers. Sweeney in particular was formerly noted for his willingness to buck Phil Murphy on a variety of issues before COVID-19 upended the legislative landscape in March. It was open warfare for a good chunk of 2019, a civil war blown into full view of the public by the ongoing EDA controversy. Then everything changed.
Sweeney and Couglin – probably for a host of reasons, most of them less-than-honorable – decided to cede control of power in Trenton to the Murphy Administration for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. Murphy has since extended his own emergency powers 10 times, and Democrats in both chambers have voted to table legislative efforts to force the Governor to seek legislative approval for future extensions.
The results have been catestrophic.
Without any real oversight, New Jersey now has America’s worst unemployment rate AND COVID-19 death rate. Almost 1/3 of New Jersey small businesses have closed forever according to a Harvard analysis. It’s gotten so bad in the nursing homes (where 7,500 have perished, roughly half of the state’s total fatalities) that the VFW is demanding a special prosecutor to investigate the Murphy Administration numerous public screw ups.
The New Jersey Constitution (like our federal one) was designed with checks and balances. Modern Garden State governors have always been powerful, true, but they’ve never been unrestrained despots until Phil Murphy. Sweeney and Coughlin’s acquiescence to King Phil could even have long-term constitutional consequences which last well beyond the instant pandemic; without a change in the current State House culture, future governors will feel less accountable – and will be more likely to push the envelope – than ever before. The new attitude is most readily apparent if you’ve been following the Murphy Administration’s disturbing lack of interest in honoring media records requests pertaining Trenton’s pandemic activities.
What’s happened in and around our nursing homes makes Bridgegate look like jaywalking. Bridgegate nevertheless brought about MASSIVE legislative scrutiny. The death of 7,000+ grandparents and veterans? Almost total silence.
Two men could’ve stopped it. They never even lifted a finger to try.
No hearings. No demands for accountability. No sincere efforts to rein in Murphy’s excesses or even demand an end date to his limitless, arbitrary exercises of unchecked executive authority.
Content to let Murphy take the blame?
Cowed by his strong poll numbers?
Afraid to continue an intra-party civil war heading into Election 2021?
A little of all three?
Whatever the case might be, history is now close to rendering its verdict. If you’ve lost a grandparent, a job, a business or any other aspect of New Jersey life you cherished before the lockdown began in March, then you can’t point the finger at Murphy, and Murphy alone, and then call it a day.
You need to hold his enablers liable, too. They’re the worst legislators in New Jersey – arguably in state history given the gravity of the situation – and they deserve the voters’ judgment next November. Sweeney, Coughlin, and the entirety of each man’s respective impotent caucuses.
Save Jersey’s Founder and Blogger-in-Chief, MATT ROONEY is a nationally-noted and respected New Jersey political commentator. When he’s not on-line, radio or television advocating for conservative reform and challenging N.J. power-brokers, Matt is a practicing attorney at the law firm of DeMichele & DeMichele in Haddon Heights (Camden County).