Challenges Legislature to be Relevant and Responsive
(TRENTON) – Craig Coughlin on Tuesday took the oath of office for his historic third term as New Jersey’s 171st General Assembly Speaker, calling on the Legislature to focus on the middle-class, kitchen table realities and help families face economic challenges by making New Jersey more affordable.
He also challenged his colleagues to listen to the message residents sent with a call for the Legislature to be relevant and responsive to people’s daily challenges.
“We have a moral obligation to strengthen the ground beneath our citizens’ feet,” said Speaker Coughlin as he addressed the crowd gathered for the Assembly Reorganization Ceremony at the Trenton War Memorial via Zoom. “In a State as great and as wealthy as ours, it is imperative that we do better.”
Coughlin, a Democrat from Woodbridge, will preside over the 80-member Assembly. Democrats have held the majority since 2002 and retain a strong 46-34 majority in the 2022-24 legislative session.
“We rewrote the playbook on how to respect the integrity of the institution and do our job without jeopardizing each other’s health,” said Coughlin of the Assembly’s response to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, which came to define much of the 219th legislative session.
Noting legislative accomplishments of the past session, the Speaker highlighted passage of the Economic Recovery Act of 2020, the New Jersey College Affordability Act as well as bills expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and modernizing the Homestead rebate.
“The pandemic laid bare that even in a highly educated and sophisticated State like ours; disparities exist across the board that leave too many citizens vulnerable,” said Coughlin. “Let’s continue to work together for the safety and success of New Jersey.”
Within the vision for the 220th Legislature, the Speaker noted the need to do more for the food and housing insecure, to help small businesses thrive, to provide quality and affordable childcare, and to address mental health, particularly among children.
Coughlin, an attorney, received his bachelor of sciences degree from St. John’s University and his law degree from St. John’s University School of Law. He began his public service by serving on the South Amboy school board from 1983 to 1987. He was then elected to the South Amboy City Council in 1986, serving until 1993.
He became a Municipal Court Judge in Edison Township in 2005, serving until 2009, when he joined the Assembly, representing the 19th Legislative District, which includes Carteret, Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Amboy and Woodbridge in Middlesex County.
Coughlin has also been heavily involved in community efforts, serving as volunteer fireman in South Amboy from 1976 to 1982 and on the executive board of the Fords Clara Barton Baseball League from 1996 to 2010. His annual bowling event in partnership with Hackensack Meridian Health and the Middlesex Water Company raises money for local food pantries. Since 2010, it has raised more than $300,000.
Coughlin stressed fairness and equity among the measures of the Legislature in the next two years.
“The challenge before us isn’t to find policy that is popular so much as relevant,” Coughlin said. “Relevant to keeping people clothed and fed and working. Relevant to keeping people healthy – both physically and mentally. Relevant to helping them get and keep a job.”
Speaker Coughlin’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
Justice Albin, Deacon Barcellona, Rabbi Kanelsky, Guests and Members of the 220th Legislature.
Thank you for the honor of returning me for a third term. I’m hoping the third time will be a charm, since we know good things come in threes.
I am sorry I am unable to be with you in person today. But I’m proof our system works. And I am pleased that we have protocols in place for the safety of our Members, staff and guests.
Let me also thank so many of those who helped make my first two terms a success and a third term possible. My extraordinary wife Tish, the absolute best partner anyone could ever have, my sons and daughters-in-law, Gary, Kevin, Dan, Stephan, Scott, Skip, Seth and Iris, my leadership team, the AMO staff, Laurie, Karen and the rest of my District office staff and so many others.
These are unprecedented times… and the last session of the Legislature challenged us in unprecedented ways.
Words like quarantine, community spread, asymptomatic, social distancing, flattening the curve, super spreader and booster all became part of our daily conversations.
ZOOM committee meetings and remote voting…
We rewrote the playbook on how to respect the integrity of the institution and do our job without jeopardizing each other’s health.
As a society, we found renewed appreciation for everyday New Jerseyans who kept our state functioning – at supermarkets and warehouses…
And let’s not forget the truckers who brought packages to our home and kept our stores filled.
Tish and I have a friend Bonnie, she’s been our friend since I coached her kids in Little League. Bonnie works at Wegman’s.
I remember seeing her at work, double masked, wearing gloves, but always there.
Our first responders and front-line workers in the health care industry, like my daughter-in-law Robin, a nurse, who all came to work in person each day while most of us stayed home.
COVID has changed how we live and how we work.
It changed how we think and what we prioritize.
On a personal level, it was a time to take stock… and reflect how fortunate I am
for my wife Tish, my family, my community and all that we Coughlins have.
The ability to spend time with our families was a silver lining during this terrible pandemic.
Mine was spending more time together… more time… since the time my boys, were well boys…
And we, in the Legislature largely found common ground around a common enemy to
support our common good.
I value my relationship with my Democratic and Republican colleagues. I know we are all committed to doing what we feel is right to best represent our constituents and communities.
I’d like to thank Jon Bramnick for his leadership, his commitment to work cooperatively and his friendship. I wish him well in the Senate.
Together, we passed an economic recovery act and a college affordability act.
To incoming Minority Leader, John DiMaio, Congratulations, I look forward to having the same relationship with you.
The COVID pandemic touched all of us – no one was immune, but its impact was not equal.
The difficulties and hardships of COVID varied depending on where you live, your job, your marital status or income.
COVID ruthlessly exposed realities in health care and education that always existed under the surface.
The pandemic laid bare that even in a highly educated and sophisticated State like ours, disparities exist across the board that leave too many citizens vulnerable.
And as the omicron surge shows us, we are not done with this
pandemic yet nor the toll that it takes on our residents.
Let’s continue to work together for the safety and success of New Jersey
Our recent elections told us a lot about the mood of our residents – forget the partisan outcome or the final vote numbers – it’s the message that matters.
And it was a message to all of us.
Now I’m proud of our record in the last session ….and I’m thankful for the partnership with Senate President Sweeney and Governor Murphy.
Together, we expanded child and dependent tax credits, the earned income tax credit, childcare credit, and modernized the homestead rebate.
To Steve Sweeney, our State is better because of your service. And I will miss you personally.
I congratulate Governor Murphy on his re-election and I am eager to work with him and Senate President Scutari to respond to what we heard from voters.
And to Senate President Scutari I wish you all the best in your new position.
Elections are about the future more than the past and the public told us government isn’t grasping what matters to them most.
People told us they feel vulnerable and often helpless in this turbulent and ever changing economy.
New Jerseyans told us government doesn’t appreciate the fine line between being well off and struggling that so many families juggle each day.
I love New Jersey. It’s the best State in America.
I love our passion for life… our diners – I mean how many of us secured our nomination in a diner!… a weekend at the shore, a Giants or Jets game (maybe not this year!) or college basketball at the Prudential Center or the RAC.
I love that people work hard, play hard and care about their communities.
I love that people are SO shy about expressing their opinions.
But in a State as great and as wealthy as ours, it is imperative that we do better… much better.
… that we address the vulnerability so many citizens feel.
… that we be relevant in their daily challenges.
We have a moral obligation to strengthen the ground beneath our citizens.
I grew up in South Amboy and Woodbridge is my home, wonderful communities of hard-working families driven by common sense and everyday realities, moderate politics and a belief in taking care of each other.
Those South Amboy and Woodbridge sensibilities are my North Star, that brings me to the center and guides my thinking on what is best for working class families in New Jersey.
We all have our own Woodbridge – that place outside of the Trenton bubble that grounds us.
The place that brings us back to common sense kitchen table realities.
This is not a speech of policy prescriptions.
That would be really boring… and take too long!
It is a call for us to be relevant and responsive to the public.
Life in New Jersey is expensive – and we need to figure out some ways to make it affordable again.
Hunger and Homelessness are problems that continue to require our attention.
Since I became Speaker, we have provided tens of millions of dollars to our food banks, strengthened the school breakfast and summer lunch programs and created the nation’s first food security czar… but we MUST do more.
Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, and they need our attention to survive and thrive.
High quality and affordable childcare is a requirement – not a luxury or a handout for working families.
Mental health… is an issue we do not talk or do nearly enough about.
Let’s change that, let’s build the mental health infrastructure to meet our people’s needs, especially children.
Think what this pandemic has done to our children –
Remote learning, learning loss, social isolation, watching friends and families get sick…
Shame on us, if we cannot find the will and resources to do more to help our kids.
The challenge before us isn’t to find policies that are popular so much as are relevant.
Relevant to keeping people clothed and fed and working.
Relevant to keeping people healthy – both physically and mentally.
Relevant to helping them get and keep a job.
New Jersey is known for many things…
Our outstanding public schools, our talented workforce, Atlantic City and the Shore….
But let us also be known as this:
A state that is fair and equal.
A state that provides food and housing for all its citizens.
A state that prioritizes its small business.
A state that cares for its children, and treasures their social, emotional and academic well-being.
A state where people choose to raise their children just like all of us did.
A State that gives its citizens solid footing to live their best life.
Let those be the measure of this 220th New Jersey legislature.
THANK YOU, GOD BLESS YOU AND GOD BLESS THE GREAT STATE OF NEW JERSEY!