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Murphy de-escalates race-tinged issue with Senate president

Mike Catalini, Associated Press | 4/18/2018, 8 p.m.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday he wasn't suggesting Senate President Steve Sweeney was a racist for holding up confirmation votes ...
Phil Murphy. - Wikipedia photo

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday he wasn't suggesting Senate President Steve Sweeney was a racist for holding up confirmation votes on two Cabinet nominees who are black.

Murphy answered a reporter's question on the issue while speaking at a roundtable on higher education. He said when he was asked about the delay last week, he wasn't suggesting anyone was racist when he noted that the nominees for higher education secretary and education commissioner are blacks with doctorate degrees.

Murphy and Sweeney are white.

The first-term Democratic governor Wednesday concentrated on the overlap among Democrats, who control state government, instead of their disagreements.

"I'm not suggesting for one second that anybody is a racist," Murphy said. "The common ground overwhelms any amount of things or disagreements we see differently."

Murphy's remarks appeared to patch up his at-times strained relationship with Sweeney, who last week compared the governor to President Donald Trump.

When asked about the confirmation delays, Sweeney responded that race had nothing to do with it, and added that Murphy sounded like Trump, who is known to call his political adversaries names.

Murphy did not say Sweeney was racist explicitly.

Murphy laughed Wednesday when he was asked what he made of being compared to the Republican president.

"It was good line. I'm a big fan of Steve's," he said.

Sweeney said the confirmation delays stemmed from disagreements over how the administration is proposing to fund education. The Senate president favors phasing out nearly decade-old aid originally aimed at preventing deep cuts to certain school districts. Murphy's administration this week signaled it was willing to revisit its proposal.

It's still not clear when the nominees would get a vote.

Democrats agree on much, with Murphy signing signed into law additional funding for Planned Parenthood and a sweeping automatic voter registration bill. The Legislature also sent to his desk bills that require employers to offer paid sick leave and another measure requiring equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.

But other items in Murphy's self-styled progressive agenda, like a millionaire's tax, $15 minimum wage and legalized marijuana have not budged so far. Sweeney says raising taxes is a last resort.

Disagreements will have to be ironed out. Murphy and lawmakers have until July 1 to enact a balanced budget. -- (AP)