When New Jersey State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin heard one lawmakers call another an "a**hole" during a recent debate, it was the last straw.

Before Thursday's voting session at the State House, Coughlin (D-Middlesex) stood at the lectern and gave the 76 members present in the Assembly chamber a nearly four-minute verbal spanking.

"We must always endeavor to have legitimate discourse, and that discourse can certainly be passionate," Coughlin said, "But let's not kid ourselves. Demonizing the other side, hurling insults, name calling — that's not passion. That is plain utter disrespect. Disrespect for the honor and privilege of the office we hold."

Coughlin has been a relatively low-key speaker. He has conducted his business mostly behind the scenes and within his own Democratic caucus. He rarely gives speeches from the lectern at which he presides over the business of the lower house, so the effort certainly caught the attention of Assembly members.

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The speaker has often tried to play the role of the adult in the room and smooth over discord among fellow Democrats. This was particularly the case when former Senate President Steve Sweeney clashed with Gov. Phil Murphy.

On Thursday, he did not call out any legislator by name or reference any specific incident, rather he decried the "insults" and "name calling" that have punctuated recent debates.

Things got particularly heated when the Assembly prepared to vote on bills focusing on law enforcement and gun control.

It was during that latter debate when Asm. Brian Bergen (R-Morris) was caught calling a fellow lawmaker an "a**hole." He later didn't deny it, and said "I meant it."

Coughlin noted how divisive and rancorous national politics have become, but implored his members not "to allow that division to seep into this chamber."

After he as done with his admonitions, Coughlin quickly moved to voting on several bills.

He did conclude the voting session with best holiday wishes for all his members and staff.

Eric Scott is the senior political director and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at eric.scott@townsquaremedia.com

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