Assemblyman Jamel Holley claimed Gov. Phil Murphy excluded him from a bill signing for a measure restoring voting rights to persons on probation or parole.
“They invited me to get a pen, but all the other main sponsors are a part of the program. He excluded me specifically,” Holley said. “I think what it is is that I’ve been very vocal against him and Ras regarding the water in Newark, and I think this is my sort of retribution, payback, whatever you want to call it. But at the end of the day, it’s disrespectful.”
In October, Holley attacked Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka over their plan to remediate lead water lines in Newark, and he’s previously criticized Murphy for what he said was a slow-moving response on a bill allowing people expunge marijuana offenses from their criminal records.
That bill will also be signed tomorrow.
Murphy’s office denied playing politics, saying they had to limit the number of speakers because of time constraints.
“The reality is this: We can’t have every sponsor speak at these events,” Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan said. “That’s never how it’s been, and we’re hoping that the event is about all those that are being helped by the legislation that’s being signed.”
Holley is one of the measure’s six primary sponsors. He is the first prime sponsor on the expungement bill and the only first prime not offered a speaking role at the bill signing.
The incident is another in a series of spats between top Trenton Democrats and members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
State Sen. Ronald Rice, who in October claimed Murphy and other legislative leaders patronized black lawmakers, was invited to speak at the bill signing in Newark Wednesday morning but is declining to appear over Holley’s exclusion.
“I know that we’re not perfect and we don’t treat other people the right way sometimes also, but I’m chairman of the caucus, and I stand by my members,” Rice said.
Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter lost her post as majority conference leader after splitting with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin on a number of key issues, including a millionaire’s tax backed by Murphy.
It remains to be seen whether the incidents lead to a greater split within the party, but this tiff won’t do much to ingratiate Murphy to the legislature’s non-white members.