Murphy Goes All in on Technology as Means to Rehab NJ Economy

As his team’s transition activities ramp up, governor-elect emphasizes importance of technology and innovation to renew Garden State

Credit: AP Photo/Julio Cortez, Pool
Gov. Phil Murphy
With a little more than a month to go before Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is sworn into office, the pace of his transition effort is beginning to ramp up.

In recent weeks, Murphy has filled a number of key positions in his incoming administration, and now more than a dozen working groups are starting to meet to discuss policy issues ranging from the economy to education.

Yesterday Murphy, a Democrat, attended the beginning of the first meeting of the panel that has been put together to figure out policy recommendations related to government technology and innovation.

He told the small group gathered in a room inside the War Memorial in Trenton that technology is at the core of his vision for improving New Jersey, whether it’s emphasizing innovation to rehab the state economy or to even update constituent services.

“This one, in particular, has a lot of significance,” Murphy said before the meeting was closed to the press.

14 working groups

The innovation panel is led by Tim Castano, president of New Start New Jersey; Jay Bhatti, co-founder of BrandProject; and Judith Sheft, associate vice president of the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Innovation Institute.

In all, 14 different working groups have been assembled by the Murphy camp, and their transition meetings will eventually culminate with a series of policy reports and recommendations that are expected to be submitted to the governor-elect in the run-up to his mid-January inaugural.

The other 13 groups will also be meeting this week to begin transition discussions on topics that are loosely connected to the various cabinet-level departments, Murphy said. They include agriculture, education, the environment, healthcare, transportation and the state budget, among others.

Murphy, a retired Goldman Sachs executive and former U.S. ambassador to Germany, had never held public office before deciding to run for governor to replace the term-limited Chris Christie. During this year’s successful campaign against Republican Kim Guadagno, Christie’s longtime lieutenant governor, Murphy ran on a message centered on improving the state economy and restoring opportunity for all communities.

Orderly transfer of power

He announced the leadership team for his transition effort about two weeks ago; the team includes former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, New Jersey Education Association leader Marie Blistan, and former NAACP president Cornell Brooks. Murphy also met with Christie in the governor’s office in Trenton after winning the election, with both men promising afterward that there would be an orderly transfer of power come January 16.

Murphy’s transition effort is being led by executive director Jose Lozano, who served as a member of former Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration. Carl Van Horn, the director of Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, is serving as a senior policy advisor, and Jose Fernandez, who was a member of former President Barack Obama’s administration, is serving as the director of the various policy committees.

So far, Murphy has named only one member of his cabinet, announcing earlier this month that his lieutenant-governor running mate, state Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), would serve as the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. Murphy earlier this month also named former campaign policy director Matt Platkin as his chief counsel, and lobbyist Peter Cammarano as his chief of staff.

Typically, the gubernatorial-transition panels are known for generating reports and ideas that don’t often prompt much interest or attention once the new governor takes office. But sometimes the reports can foreshadow more controversial moves. For example, it was the recommendations on education policy put forward by Christie’s transition effort in 2009 that first detailed what would become his controversial push for a revamping of state teacher-tenure rules, something Christie eventually signed into law in 2012.

Murphy: ‘I promise you this is not for show’

Murphy said yesterday that he envisions his own transition-policy committees will play an important role as his administration starts to come together over the next several weeks. He also told the members of the innovation and technology group that the transition team has “a lot to do in a short
amount of time.”

“I promise you this is not for show,” Murphy said. “We’re looking for the answers that will allow us to govern in action as we have spoken in our words.”

Murphy also said the technology and innovation issue has particular meaning for his overall vision for New Jersey, including tying into his plans for improving the state economy through more emphasis on tech-incubators and startups. He also said technology is at the heart of his goal of creating a fairer economy through things like improved student access to computer-science training and closing a “digital divide” that holds back achievement in many communities.

“It’s one that has a couple of different tracks, which on the surface may appear to be unrelated, but we think they’re highly related,” Murphy said of the innovation issue.

He also said state government itself needs to get its “technology mojo back” in order to better serve constituents who have become increasingly reliant on the latest technologies.

“We don’t want to just be measured in our words, but in our actions,” Murphy said.