TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday will become National Governors Association chairman, a bipartisan perch where he’ll get to set out a priority for the group for the year ahead and potentially raise his political profile.

Murphy becomes the first New Jerseyan to lead the organization, which dates to 1908. The chairmanship gets swapped between the two major parties each year, and Murphy has been the vice chairman for the past year.

Murphy arrived in Portland, Maine, on Thursday for the National Governors Association summer meeting, and after the meeting concludes Friday will return to Italy to continue his family vacation. He will be back in New Jersey on July 20.

Rutgers University political scientist John Weingart, director of the Center on the American Governor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, said connections made through the NGA can help both in a governor’s current job and any future political aspirations he or she may have.

“A lot of the things a governor does that may help enhance their profile are also useful for being a good, effective governor – to get lessons from other states, to meet with people from other states,” Weingart said.

Weingart says the potential benefit to New Jersey is that states can learn from each other and do face overlapping concerns, as well as that Murphy can bring New Jersey’s concerns to the forefront.

The NGA generally avoids partisan positions and debates in favor of things like study commissions. Weingart said it sometimes bands together to take bipartisan positions the senators from a given state might not support, as chief administrators of state governments who are more practical.

“Recently they advocated forming a study group to study and make recommendations about gun violence,” he said of the NGA. “Well, that’s not exactly taking a position one way or the other, but it is advancing consideration of the problem.”

Each NGA chairman sets out an initiative for the group for the year ahead. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whose time as chairman ends Friday, selected computer science education. Murphy will unveil his choice Friday.

The NGA is funded through state dues. New Jersey is spending $185,000 on that in the new state budget.

Weingart said the post takes as much time and travel as a governor wants it to.

“And I guess if a governor is the head of the NGA and starts deciding it’s important to meet with people in New Hampshire and Iowa, then it raises rumors about presidential aspirations,” he said.

President Joe Biden says he will seek a second term in 2024, and it’s unlikely any major Democrats would challenge him. But if Biden, who is 79 years old and has job approval ratings under 40%, opts not to run, it’s possible Murphy would become a candidate.

Hutchinson, the outgoing chairman, is also a potential candidate for the Republican nomination.

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Murphy will be NGA chairman for a year. In 2023, he will also serve a second stint as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a partisan group that raises and spends funds for candidates for governor.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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