The 10 most powerful/influential people in New Jersey 2020
Posted November 23, 2020 at 12:00pm by bill
1. Senate President Steve Sweeney
Many political "powerlists" have already stopped putting Sweeney at the number 1 spot signaling a decline in his influence. But I couldn't disagree anymore. While the self described fiscal conservative's public entanglements with Governor Phil Murphy have quieted following the embarrassing 2019 electoral cycle, he is still the Senate President. While it seems easy to use the power to derail legislation Sweeney can do it with ease. He can keep a caucus, that is largely way more liberal than he is, in his pocket with no trouble even as his closest allies in south Jersey are losing their grip on power to young charismatic republicans, like Team Testa in the first district. It is also worth mentioning that Sweeney has been Senate President for going onto 12 years and shows no sign of leaving anytime soon, democrats would be fools to get rid of him, especially if a republican is elected Governor next year. Its even more apparent that no other democrat could easily assume the role of Senate President.
2. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin
Assemblyman Craig Coughlin is much more liberal than Sweeney, and is more aligned with Governor Phil Murphy than his counterpart in the upper chamber. Still Coughlin acts as a powerbroker between Murphy and Sweeney. This past summer when Sweeney again vowed to block a millionaires tax, Coughlin, who is more sympathetic to a millionaires tax than Sweeney suggested a middle class tax credit. Sweeney caved and agreed to the millionaires tax (that he had supported throughout the Christie years). Coughlin is the Governor's key to liberal legislation that wouldn't have a chance if a south Jerseyite was Speaker. Coughlin has a much stronger hold on his caucus than Sweeney. Coughlin rarely looses any votes whatsoever. Unlike when Sweeney loses votes in the Senate and relies on republicans like Chris Brown, and Kip Bateman, Coughlin has to deal with a much more bullishly conservative republican caucus. So the hold on his caucus his incredibly important and remarkable considering he ousted a Hispanic north Jersey speaker with support from half the caucus.
3. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg
Senate President Sweeney's relationship with anyone outside of Burlington County is shaky considering he has to deal with a caucus that mostly comes from the states most populous and liberal cities. His key to this caucus is Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. Weinberg, who is arguably the most liberal member of the Senate, can actively promote her own agenda regardless if Sweeney realizes it or not. Weinberg can help nudge Sweeney is a liberal direction if she believes she has to. Weinberg isn't afraid to call out Governor Phil Murphy's sometimes poor record on sexual assault. This puts her in a similar positions as Sweeney who she probably shares some dislike for the Governor with.
4. Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver
Picking Sheila Oliver for Lieutenant Governor was one of the best political decisions Phil Murphy ever made. Oliver knows what its like to deal with a hostile separate branch of Government after spending four years making deals with Chris Christie. Oliver plays a large role in the Governor's promotion of shared services as Commissioner of Community Affairs, which earns him points with Sweeney, and Steve Oroho which can gain him some help in the northern reaches of the state that basically act as their own entity.
5. George Norcross
The political boss of all things south jersey, Norcross can basically do whatever he wants. He orchestrated the love/hate relationship south Jersey democrats had with Chris Christie, which was likely done to help his own businesses. Norcross orchestrated the party switch of life long republican Dawn Addiego to give the State Senate the most democrats ever. He has been a thorn in Governor Phil Murphy's side, but still when things get tough for Norcross he will likely suck up to Murphy for as long as he can so he can keep playing his game of survival.
6. Governor Phil Murphy
Despite being the most powerful Governor in the country, Murphy still ranks in the middle on the power scale. While it seems as if he entered office with the perfect circumstances, landslide victory, a popular mandate, supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, etc., digging deeper reveals much more. Those supermajorities in both houses where held by moderate democrats who where angry that Steve Sweeney wasn't the Governor, and while his fiscal policies where popular he simply can't make people like them as much as they did in 2017. On top of that Murphy isn't a particularly great politician. A poor communicator he struggles to show a "relationship" with the average person on top of that, the way he dresses he gives of the look of a spoiled eeliest. Despite this he is still the Governor, with large executive power, and the power of the New York media market, which has come in handy with his COVID briefings. He has successfully learned the Chris Christie game of making it look like every thing is under control in a state that is bursting at the seams.
7. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick
In a normal year Bramnick wouldn't even make it on a top 100 list let alone a top 10. Under Bramnick the GOP in the Assembly lost seats all over the state and in the middle of all that he almost let his own district fall victim to democrats prey as his GOP struggled for survival. But 2019 releveled a silver lining. Everyone expected republicans to loose at least 2 seats 4 at most. But that didn't happen Bramnick and his often times forgotten about runningmate Nancy Munoz won a convincing victory. On top of that republicans picked off two Assemblyman who where some of the closest allies of Steve Sweeney. A lot of people acknowledged that the GOP was back in play, although that declaration by some analysts was quickly forgotten. Bramnick used this to position himself as a candidate for Governor. Bramnick is the model of what a blue state republican Governor looks like. Moderate, holds good relationships with democrats, and charismatic. If Jon Bramnick does eventually decide to run for Governor and at the same time remain Minority Leader he would, and currently holds, the ability to look like he is fighting, something that republican voters desperately want. And most importantly he could stop a lot of the members of his caucus from endorsing ANYONE but himself for Governor out of fear they lose their cash stream. This could make Bramnick heavily competitive everywhere in the state if most Assembly republicans decide to stay out of the game while Bramnick snoops for votes outside of his suburban district.
8. Chairman John Currie
As Chair of the New Jersey Democratic Party Currie started off his career as Chair of the Passaic County Democratic Committee. He transformed Passaic from a soft GOP leaning county to one of the most reliably democrat counties in the state. He has done the same in New Jersey, while he seems to have forgotten about South Jersey as some areas fall out of the grip of the Norcross clan, he has seen a takeover of Somerset, and Burlington counties by democrats fairly quickly. Come January 2021 Somerset will have a completely democrat controlled government after ousting three uber popular republican incumbents. As well as the takeover of Burlington County which was years in the making. Republicans have seen little to no success on the county level against democrats because Currie knows how to run a party despite this Currie nearly lost re-election to former Assemblyman LeRoy Jones who was endorsed by south jersey democrats if it wasn't for a deal brokered by Governor Phil Murphy.
9. State Senator Mike Testa
After winning a somewhat surprising upset win over Sweeney ally and 34 year old veteran State Senator Bob Andrzejczak, Testa positioned himself as a charismatic face of the new GOP. Staying true to his conservative principles, Testa has made it clear that republicans are still in play in one of the bluest states in the nation. Testa who could easily be described as "very conservative" even spoke at a BLM rally in Vineland, giving a speech that was very unifying in nature. His message in Vineland and at other rallies that are much more right wing in nature has set the tone for republicans across the state which has put him in a unique position despite serving in the states upper chamber for less than a year.
10. State Senator Steve Oroho
Despite coming from what many refer to as the "redheaded stepchild of New Jersey", Oroho has positioned him self in an equally powerful position as his predecessor, moderate republican Robert Littell held while Chair of the appropriations committee in the 1990s. Oroho has a bromance with Senate President Steve Sweeney which has allowed him to make a lot of promises, that tend to come to fruition, to his district which will allow it to remain in the staunchly republican column for decades to come.