When Chris Christie was governor, he held dozens of town hall meetings on a variety of subjects.

Gov. Phil Murphy could soon hit the road with a similar strategy, to try and build public support for his proposed state spending plan, which must be finalized and signed by the end of June.

According to Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan University Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship and a Rowan political science professor, the town hall format is an effective way for politicians to get their message across.

He said they do this “by rolling up their shirt-sleeves, talking in a theater in the round situation, and trying to explain the logic behind whatever policy they’re pursuing."

Dworkin said Christie used the town hall setting very effectively but was “in his own way, a very different politician.

"Phil Murphy, our current governor can also find real success in this kind of format and venue," he said.

Former Gov. Christie during a town hall. David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ
Former Gov. Christie during a town hall. David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

He said the town hall setting gives Murphy the chance to come off as an everyman, someone who is working for the people.

“You don’t want to be up there on a stage, giving a speech, lecturing. You want to engage the people to show them, 'I believe in this agenda so much that I’m out here ready to talk to you,'" Dworkin said.

Dworkin said the Murphy budget is a remarkably progressive document, completely realigning fiscal priorities set forth by former Gov. Christie. It includes tax increases for millionaires, some profitable corporations, ride-sharing services like Uber and transient accommodations like Airbnb — as well as a slight bump up in the sales tax.

Dworkin noted even some Democrats are concerned about funding the programs Murphy wants to push forward, and said it’s important to try and build a groundswell of support.

“You don’t want to be seen as aloof as a politician. You want to be the kind of person who goes out, who isn’t afraid to take a tough question," Dworkin said.

Dworkin said the town hall format is an effective way to convey a message that needs time and repetition to sink into people’s consciousness.

“This is why you see the advertisement on television over and over and over again, because just watching it once will not necessarily make a difference in your behavior. You have to see it repeatedly in order to absorb it," he said.

He added “whatever number of town halls Gov. Murphy will do, he will be saying the same things over and over again."

Dworkin said as discussions about Murphy’s proposed budget continue to evolve, he’ll be negotiating with the Legislature — but in order to get the spending plan approved “the governor has to go out and sell it. He has to be able to go to the Legislature and say, 'The public backs my agenda. The public backs my plan.'”

“The only way to do that is to convince the public, and they haven’t been convinced yet," he said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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