TRENTON — A new legislative session kicked off on Tuesday as lawmakers took the oath of office for new terms and welcomed several new members, along with a change in leadership in the Assembly and a renewed drive to tackle the state’s biggest problems and challenges.
Among the nine new faces were two Assembly members from Burlington County: Democrat Carol Murphy, of the 7th District, and Republican Ryan Peters, of the 8th District.
Meanwhile, the Senate welcomed a more familiar figure to its ranks, as former Assemblyman Troy Singleton was sworn in as the 7th District’s new senator.
A former legislative aide to Assemblyman Herb Conaway and former Speaker Joe Roberts, Singleton, a Democrat, took the oath during the Senate’s reorganization, becoming the first African-American from Burlington County to serve in the Legislature’s upper house.
“I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am to be here today,” Singleton said after the oath. “I’ve had the ability to be an intern, a staffer, an Assembly member and now a senator.”
Singleton, who served in the Assembly for six years, is filling the seat of longtime Republican Sen. Diane Allen, who chose not to run for re-election. He described it as a humbling and immense responsibility.
“There are 9 million New Jersey residents, but at any one time there are only 40 of us that are humbled and honored to have the privilege to be called senator. ... Each of us comes here with the ability and desire to do what’s best for all New Jerseyans,” he said, adding that he would strive to live up to Allen’s example.
Peters, a former Navy SEAL and Burlington County freeholder, won the Assembly seat held for four years by fellow Republican Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, who also chose not to seek re-election.
Peters said he looks forward to the new challenge and to hopefully finding solutions to make the state more affordable.
“Each day, New Jersey families struggle with a crisis of affordability that is unfair and unrelenting. Highest-in-the-nation taxes and suffocating cost of living have forced people to make unnecessary sacrifices. Our state shouldn’t be one that people have to flee in retirement,” he said.
“As a member of the Legislature, I am looking forward to working with our new governor and my colleagues across the aisle to make New Jersey a place where people can afford to live, raise a family and one day retire.”
Murphy won Singleton’s open 7th District seat. It is her first time serving in elected office. She previously was chief of staff for Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14th of Plainsboro, and was communications and policy chief for Assemblywoman Gabriela M. Mosquera, D-4th of Gloucester Township.
Like Singleton, Murphy said the task of representing the people who entrusted her is a humbling responsibility.
“You feel a part of something bigger than yourself,” she said. “As a staffer, you’re trying to help the person you work for do the best possible job. But now, I’m doing something for the people I represent.”
The Assembly’s reorganization also featured the elevation of Craig Coughlin, D-19th of Fords, to the speaker’s post. He succeeds Vincent Prieto, D-32nd of Secaucus, who was ousted from the position but remains an elected member of the chamber.
The Democrats enjoy large majorities in both houses. In the Senate, they have a 25-15 advantage, one more than the last session. In the Assembly, the edge is 54-26.
In his address, Coughlin said he hopes to restore opportunity to the middle class and stand up for the “less fortunate.” He also hopes that, together, lawmakers can restore people’s faith in government.
“Too many people seem convinced the system doesn’t care about them anymore. But I know that’s not true. And I know that everyone on this stage is here because we believe we can make a difference,” Coughlin said.
“Let’s do hard things, and let’s do them together,” he added. “Let’s make the hallmark of the 218th Assembly that it was thorough and thoughtful, that it took on big challenges, and wasn’t afraid to be bold in its thinking or in the mountains it chose to scale.”
The other leadership posts in the Assembly are unchanged. Lou Greenwald, D-6th of Voorhees, remains his party’s majority leader. Jon Bramnick, R-21st of Westfield, will continue to lead the GOP minority.
In his speech, Greenwald called on both Democrats and Republicans to work together to tackle big issues, such as the need for property tax reform, voter rights, gender pay and improved gun control.
“We can do these things, together. When it comes to public policy challenges, we must resolve to never take ‘no’ for an answer, and be committed to finding solutions to today’s problems, no matter where we find them,” Greenwald said. “Change begins right here. Not with sound bites or slogans, but with remarkable citizen legislators, and even more remarkable men and women across this great state, the people we serve and those who are not afraid to dream.”
Bramnick also called for cooperation, adding that one-party rule can lead to extreme positions, and that most of the residents they represent want lawmakers to be “moderate and reasonable.”
“Tweets that hurl insults at each other do not solve complicated issues,” he said. “The reasonable and rational people of this state and this country must stand together and speak out as one.”