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The voters of New Jersey have just elected a former Wall Street banker their new governor. Just what America needs, many onlookers are undoubtedly thinking, another Wall Streeter in a powerful political position.
In the nation’s capital, the Trump administration is already — and famously — teeming with Wall Street alumni. At one point this past spring, team Trump boasted six former top guns from just one Wall Street bank alone. The White House, quipped senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, had enough Goldman Sachs alums to open a branch office.
The just-elected governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, also happens to hail from Goldman Sachs. But Murphy bears no public policy likeness to his fellow Goldman alums in the Trump administration. In fact, over the course of his more than 500-day gubernatorial campaign, Murphy took every opportunity to distance himself from the rich people-friendly agenda the White House’s Goldman crew is relentlessly promoting.
Trump’s Goldman execs, for instance, are pushing tax cuts for the rich. Murphy campaigned for a new “millionaire’s tax,” a hike in the state’s tax rate on income over $1 million from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent.
Trump’s Goldman Sachs crew is killing regulations that protect working people. Murphy’s campaign called for a $15 minimum wage, free community college tuition, and guaranteed sick leave statewide.
Murphy the former Wall Street banker even backed the idea of creating a public state bank for New Jersey, an institution that would take in deposits from the state government and lend out dollars to finance local infrastructure projects, small businesses, and student loans.
“I’m in love with the idea of a public bank,” Murphy told voters during his campaign, in an obvious appeal to supporters of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, until now the nation’s most visible political advocate for public banking.
Will New Jerseyans end up seeing a public state bank, a millionaire’s tax, and a $15 minimum during Murphy’s upcoming four-year term? New Jersey’s recent history, unfortunately, is giving many progressives pause.
Murphy actually ranks as New Jersey’s second former Goldman Sachs exec to enter the state’s gubernatorial mansion. The first, Jon Corzine, won election in 2005 and then, after a disastrous four years, lost his re-election bid to right-wing blowhard Chris Christie.
Corzine, a mega millionaire, spent a huge chunk of his millions to become governor. Murphy has spent millions, too. In the gubernatorial primary race, he outspent his rivals five to one and won the overwhelming support of local political leaders, one press report notes, with “large checks written to county Democratic committees.”
Murphy, also like Corzine, has never paid any “political dues” working his way up from the ranks. His millions gave him instant political credibility. But Murphy, for all his millions, remains a political neophyte subject to political neophyte missteps.
As the Obama-era ambassador to Germany, for instance, Murphy generated a dicey diplomatic embarrassment when his unflattering comments about German chancellor Angela Merkel went public and viral. Similar missteps along that line could well tank Murphy’s efforts on behalf of the progressive political platform he ran on during his successful gubernatorial campaign.
Murphy may, in other words, prove to be an excellent governor who moves his state toward significantly greater equality. Or he may prove to be a blundering know-it-all whose incompetence discredits the progressive positions he now champions. Murphy’s tenure, in other words, figures to be a crapshoot.
In a deeply unequal America, with wealth concentrated outrageously at our economic summit, we see these sorts of crapshoots all the time. We vote for mega millionaires who say the right things. We hope against hope they’ll make these right things happen.
Voters shouldn’t have to gamble like this. We need a more equal America. We need a mass movement that fights for one.
Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, co-edits Inequality.org. His latest book — The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 — traces how average Americans ended the nation’s original Gilded Age. Follow him at @Too_Much_Online.