NEWARK – Former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver says she’ll be “a very different lieutenant governor,” though Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy says the details of her integral role in the would-be administration haven’t yet been worked out.

Murphy formally announced his selection of Oliver at a sweltering rally in a campaign office he shares with the Democratic State Committee that featured blistering critiques of Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate for governor.

“Sheila Oliver shares my vision for a state that once again is fair, is just, is welcoming, is inclusive and has an economy that not only grows but ensures that everyone can participate in that growth,” Murphy said.

“Allow me to make it perfectly clear: Sheila Oliver has stood up for everything that Chris Christie and Kim Guadagno have stood against,” Murphy said.

Echoing Murphy’s remarks, Oliver – a seventh-term assemblywoman from Essex County and the first black woman to serve as Assembly speaker – said she’d work to create a fairer economy.

“I intend to be a very different lieutenant governor,” Oliver said. “Unlike Kim Guadagno, I will spend every minute of my time working to make this state better for women, for children, for families and for every single constituency group up and down the state of New Jersey.”

“I will not be a lieutenant governor who handles and provides big tax breaks to our corporations quite literally at the expense of middle-class families in this state,” Oliver said.

“The Christie-Guadagno administration has done everything in their power to protect those at the top of the economic ladder and have done very, very little to help working-class people in this state,” she said.

Lieutenant governors in New Jersey don’t have an official responsibility but are required to be assigned something, such as heading a department or agency. The post was created through a 2005 amendment to the state constitution, and only one person has held the job – Guadagno, who has also served as Christie’s secretary of state.

Guadagno is expected to announce her choice of Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo as her running mate Thursday.

Murphy said he and Oliver haven’t yet discussed specifically what role she would have in his Cabinet, though he referenced her advocacy for a higher minimum wage and paid family leave benefits in her introduction.

“I think we’re both very open-minded. But what we have had a discussion about is that this job will be a job of major substance,” Murphy said.

“The lieutenant governor, Sheila, will be driving a big portion of our agenda, and that’s where we’ve had our conversations. Not sure exactly what that means for a particular position,” he said.

Oliver, 65, was born and raised in Newark. She is a former East Orange school board member and president and former Essex County freeholder. In addition to being a lawmaker, she is an assistant administrator for Essex County, a post that pays nearly $127,500.

In 2013, Oliver ran for U.S. Senate in the special election that followed the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg; she finished last in a four-candidate field in the Democratic primary with 4 percent of the vote.

Oliver was Assembly speaker from 2010 to 2014, Christie’s first term – meaning it was on her watch when pension and benefits reforms were passed in 2011, over the objections of public workers. She said she’s had labor support since then and a record of supporting unions, but she concedes not all may have forgotten.

“I would suspect that people who had one net pay seven and a half years ago, and they have a lesser net pay seven and a half years later, I would suspect that there are people who are angry,” Oliver said.

Representatives from the New Jersey Education Association and Communications Workers of America unions were on hand for Wednesday’s announcement, at which Oliver said Chapter 78 – as the 2011 law is often referred to at the Statehouse and in legal filings – has been a hardship for public workers.

“You met your end of the bargain that was made, but Christie and Guadagno obliterated and hid from their commitment,” Oliver said.

“Chapter 78 was an imperfect piece of legislation made worse by Gov. Christie and Lt. Gov. Guadagno’s outright refusal to fund the pension system,” Oliver said.

Over eight budgets, Christie will have put $8.8 billion into the pension funds. This year’s state budget provides a record $2.5 billion, which includes the revenues from the state lottery.

However, actuaries recommended far more funding than Christie provided. Under the 2011 reform law, this year’s payment should equal 100 percent of the recommended payment. Instead, it amounts to 50 percent.

Murphy said he and Oliver are “two like-minded souls” and said it’s a statement to include people of diverse backgrounds on the ticket. Her Statehouse experience was also a plus to Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has never held elective office.

“Sheila brings so much to the table, from personal chemistry to her beliefs to her family story to her experience and certainly her experience in Trenton. That absolutely is important on the long list of things that make Sheila Oliver as special as she is,” Murphy said.

The event featured a few of the malapropisms and unique turns of phrase Oliver is known to deploy from time to time.

She said the Christie administration has “strangle-holded” the state for seven and a half years. After reciting some of Christie’s famed run-ins with members of the public who’ve challenged him, she said “Guadagno and Christie have shown that they have discernment for the people that live in the state.”

Discernment is defined as the ability to judge well, or the quality of being able to comprehend what is obscure.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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