Tammy Murphy uses the power of her office for meeting of minds

New Jersey has had its share of politically active first ladies who have shone a spotlight on important issues. But First Lady Tammy Murphy may be making her mark as much behind the scenes as at the podium. She sat down at the governor’s mansion, Drumthwacket, with Correspondent Briana Vannozzi.

Vannozzi: You said very early that you wanted to have an imprint on this administration and on this state. Are you?

Murphy: I think I am. I think I am, but I am very happy being in the background. I have a few things that I want to work on, and I am working on, but I am very happy to be in a supporting role. I’m thrilled to watch, to help convene, to help think through problems when they arise. But I don’t have to be there right in front of anyone doing very splashy things.

Vannozzi: Folks were calling you the co-governor at one point.

Murphy: I have no idea why they were doing that. Phil and I are absolutely a team, always have been. I would say so many people have asked me about that, at this point in time, that I am starting to say, well, maybe that’s not the norm, but for Phil and Tammy Murphy we have always worked together.

Vannozzi: So what are those things you are looking to push?

Murphy: I would say, first of all, I’m a mother. I am a wife. I am a daughter. So I would say maternal issues, issues that impact children and families, those are important to me. I also, obviously, have said many times before, I’m very interested in the environment. So those are two things that I am working on a lot. The maternal and infant mortality rates in New Jersey are unacceptable. That is something I have really dug in on to try and figure out if there is either a quick fix, which there clearly is not, but it’s a very complicated topic, so that has taken a lot of energy.

Vannozzi: You were just with the commissioner of health talking about money allocated to look at that.

Murphy: That’s true, that’s true. So, there’s been $4.3 million that’s been allocated, and that is really fabulous. We need to do everything we could do, because it is just not right that we are 47th out of 50th in the United States. But, that is a topic that has taken me down into all sorts of different areas, from prenatal care, to lack of transportation, to substance abuse and recidivism and lack of education. There’s so many factors that play into this that it’s not something you can just fix overnight. But we’re going to chip away at it, and I feel confident that we’re going to get there. We are not going to remain where we are, at 47th out of 50th, particularly in a state like New Jersey with such incredible innovation and a history of entrepreneurship and health innovation.

Vannozzi: How do you push that agenda, those issues that you are looking to champion — the environment, these maternal health issues. How do you do that? How are you engaging with policy makers, with lawmakers? What does that look like?

Murphy: I just actually, I’m trying now to sit down with a bunch of the different environmental groups on the environmental side and talk to them and find out what’s really important. You hear different names of different groups and you think, you assume, what they are working on, but it’s really good to actually sit down and talk to the principals and find out, OK, what is important to you and how can we find that overlap that we can really exploit and really make some change. So I’d say on the environmental side, that’s really one piece. I’m looking at education and all sorts of initiatives that we have in the administration. I’m working with the renewable energy and all sorts of different areas, social justice, and there’s a whole range of topics that I can talk to you about on that front.

Vannozzi: What shape does that take? Are you writing reports and recommendations and then having your staff work on that? How does it then come to be?

Murphy: So, let me give one that I thought, I’ll going to shift back to the infant and maternal mortality issue. That is one where I thought it was going to be a quick fix, so I’ve been running around, meeting with foundations that have a specialization in that area, meeting with Camden Coalition, meeting with some of the hospital systems, trying to understand what are they doing in their communities. What are the best practices? Where are they falling down? What are the strengths that we should take and share with others? We met internally with the commissioner of health, DCA [Department of Community Affairs], everyone has been trying to work together to figure out what their area can do to try and break down the silos. Because a lot of this is caused by, I may have a great idea in my area, but I don’t think to share it with you over in your geographic area or in your discipline because I don’t think it’s impacting you. One of the things that I can do through my office is use the power of convening people, and that is something that has been quite powerful so far. I’ve been able to bring a lot of people together who wouldn’t normally be in the same room, and if they are in the same room, they might not be talking about this particular topic.