In October 2021, The Nation’s John Nichols gleefully reported that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy had a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli in that state’s governor’s race. In the same month, The New York Intelligencer noted that Murphy’s double-digit lead had been cut in half. What caused the seemingly instantaneous numbers change?
The Intelligencer theorized that politically liberal-to-moderate parents in the state were tired of their children being forced to stay home from school. There were other issues as well, namely Murphy’s forced mask mandates and vaccination orders for school employees. The Intelligencer also quoted Ciattarelli on Murphy’s progressive agenda: “We’re not teaching gender ID to kindergartners.”
Ciattarelli didn’t stop there. He also pointed out the Democrats’ plan to teach students about white Americans’ role in racial oppression. “There is systemic racism, but I don’t think we should be teaching our children that white people perpetuate systemic racism,” he stated.
The people of New Jersey obviously paid attention because Phil Murphy nearly lost his 2021 bid for re-election. Four years earlier, in 2017, he sailed to an easy14-point victory margin over Republican challenger Kim Guadagno.
The trajectory of Murphy’s rise to Left Progressive stardom started with the pandemic, when he constructed a full TV studio in his home in Red Bank, modeling it after Joe Biden’s covid-19 hideaway bunker in Delaware. Murphy and the pandemic seemed to be a match made in political heaven. In September 2020, three years after becoming the state’s 56th governor, Politico was publishing pieces with headlines like, ‘How Covid-19 made New Jersey’s Phil Murphy the most powerful governor in America.’
Murphy’s season in the sun was short lived, however.
Despite a glowing first term report card from state Democrats lauding him for creating one of the most diverse cabinets in the nation—the nation’s first Sikh Attorney General, the state’s first Muslim Health Commissioner and the appointment of six women—Murphy won re-election by 50 to 49.2%, a percentage point so fragile it took a day to determine the winner. In its post election analysis, The New York Times wondered if Murphy would move to the middle when it came to issues like abortion (Murphy put that question to rest when he signed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act –S49/A6260–, perhaps the most liberal abortion law in the country.)
The Governor, whose distinctive toothy grin is somehow reminiscent of a shark’s external gill, hails from a working class suburb of Boston and was the first Democrat to hold the office in 8 years, succeeding Governor Chris Christie. The Harvard-Wharton School grad and former Goldman Sachs CEO spent 21.7 million on the primary in 2017, leading some to speculate that he bought the election.
His progressive liberal platform included Pre-K (a favorite cause among progressives because it provides fertile introductory ground for gender studies and critical race theory), free community college and legalized recreational weed. Murphy often mentioned the state of California as a role model for New Jersey’s progressive policies.
That there is a far-left agitprop for Pre-K Tots is no longer disputed, as The New York Post pointed out in January 2020 when it reported that “at one taxpayer-funded Brooklyn nursery, it isn’t numbers, letters or nap time — but racism and victimhood, plus transgender rights, with a heavy dose of political indoctrination in the mix.” As far back as 2016, former Governor Chris Christie was quick to attack Murphy’s support for Pre-K, when he called it “Babysitting” and added that it was an unfair intrusion of government into public education.
“No child in this state is worth more state aid than another,” Christie stated then. “Every child has potential. Every child has goals. Every child has dreams. No child’s dreams are less worthy than any others.”
Since becoming governor of Cali-Jersey, Murphy has transformed Pre-K into what President Biden has hailed as a model for the nation. It took some time for Murphy to do this, but once NJ Pre-K got on its feet, he was quick to sign a new law in March 2021 mandating that state schools must begin age-appropriate lessons about diversity and inclusion as early as kindergarten.
Murphy’s Law (what could go wrong) called on schools to promote “economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance.”
Of course, protecting the health of toddlers is essential when you’re feeding them propaganda. Toddlers must be well to learn well, and so the governor– with a grin reminiscent of a shark’s external gill– signed the most woke executive order of them all: a proclamation stating that two to five-year-olds must wear masks in day care centers.
Murphy rolled out this directive despite guidelines from the World Health Organization stating that children aged 5 and younger should not be required to wear masks “based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.”
His order was called “a heinous act” and a form of “child abuse” by many, including Senator Michael J. Doherty of New Jersey’s 23rd Legislative District. Many others echoed Senator Doherty’s concerns but the protests did no good. The toddlers continued to wear masks like the trapped children in a bad version of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1996 thriller, The City of Lost Children.
From day care centers, Murphy then set his gaze on prisons when he took the most radical action possible when it was revealed that New Jersey had one of the highest pandemic-related deaths in the country. What to do? Well, release as many prisoners as possible, of course.
The decision was made to cut 8 months off many prisoners’ sentences to relive crowding and to keep the pandemic at bay. The Department of Corrections public relations people got to work assuring the press and citizenry that the prisoners being released were not convicted murderers or repeat sexual offenders. They were, in most instances, harmless parole violators.
In April 2020 Murphy signed Executive Order No. 124, Executive Order establishing the Emergency Medical Review Committee to make recommendations on which inmates should be placed on temporary home confinement.
“My Administration’s top priority is the health and safety of all nine million New Jerseyans, including those who are currently incarcerated,” the Governor said. “The correctional setting presents unique challenges to social distancing, particularly for vulnerable populations. Allowing some of our most vulnerable individuals who do not pose a public safety threat to temporarily leave prison will protect both their health, and the health and safety of the men and women working in our correctional facilities….”
On the West coast during the same time period, the state of California, New Jersey’s golden calf role model, was doing the same thing. Nearly 9,500 inmates were released from California state prisons from July 1 through Aug. 6, 2020.
Much like Murphy’s management of PRE-K, the idea behind emptying prisons was to introduce the idea gently at first (with many facts left out), and then when the ball got rolling to accelerate the motion significantly. With PRE-K, this meant the later addition of diversity and equity instruction; with early prison releases it meant upping the numbers of released prisoners as well as using less of a filter when it came to decisions about which prisoners to let go.
1,000 people were released from New Jersey jails in the spring of 2020. By the end of 2021, more than 5,300 prisoners were home free in a liberation exercise that New Jersey Corrections spokesperson Liz Velez called “a seamless reentry process balancing public health and public safety.”
Now, in what sounds like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, Velez also stated that the released prisoners “are COVID tested before release and provided a COVID KIT with essentials such as sanitizer and masks.”
Are we to believe that criminals who wear masks and use hand sanitizer somehow pose no risk to the general population? You may be burglarized but at least you won’t catch COVID.
The first 11 months of Murphy’s program reduced the prison population in New Jersey by 40% (down to about 10,800 individuals.) Yet the vastness of the enterprise and the speed at which it was implemented pretty much guaranteed some kind of disaster
That disaster happened in August 2021 when New Jersey 101.5 broke the following news,
“NJ Inmate Accused of Murder Days After NJ Law Ordered His Release.”
“..Two days after his release, Jerry Crawford, 25, of Atlantic City, doing time for burglary, was allowed to leave South Woods State Prison on November 4, 2020. On November 6 he and another man shot David Scarbrough. Scarbrough’s body was found riddled with bullets and dumped in a field.”
After charges were filed against Crawford, Republican state Sen. Michael Testa said, “A member of the public is now dead as a direct result of the Murphy administration’s dangerous early release policy….We warned Governor Murphy that he was putting the public at risk, but he disagreed, with tragic results…”
Testa believes that the Governor has another motive for the early prison release. To bolster his view, he cites conversations he’s had with corrections officers and union leaders who say that because the Department of Corrections has failed to repair the infrastructure at Southern State and Bayside State prisons that the governor’s intention is to close sections of those facilities.
Yet the ever persistent Phil Murphy just won’t quit.
In early February 2022, the NJ Dept. of Corrections released another 852 inmates when Murphy re-declared a public health emergency due to the omicron variant. Ironically, almost a month later the governor ended the mask mandate for students and school employees. “This is not a declaration of victory as much as an acknowledgment that we can responsibly live with this thing,” he said, echoing what many experts were saying over a year ago.
It’s strange and suspicious (and indicative of yet another agenda) that while Murphy is announcing the end of the pandemic health emergency, he’s still allowing serious offenders an early release from prison.
Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He is the author of fifteen books, including Philadelphia Architecture (2005); Literary Philadelphia and Philadelphia Mansions: Stories and Characters Behind the Walls.