Assembly Democrats made official Monday what had been apparent since early summer: Assemblyman Craig Coughlin will become speaker in January.

Coughlin, a Woodbridge resident who just won his fifth term, had struck up an alliance with South Jersey Democrats eager to move on from Speaker Vincent Prieto. He had announced support from a majority of Democrats, with the only question being any unexpected results in the election.

Democrats added two members to their majority, now at 54 seats to 26 for the Republicans, the party’s largest in 40 years. But the changes didn’t alter the calculus giving Coughlin the votes to be the speaker when the new legislative term begins Jan. 9.

Coughlin started by being mostly noncommittal on the immediate agenda in a news conference.

“What’s going to be our guiding principle is doing what’s right and best for the working middle class people in New Jersey. That’s the top legislative priority,” Coughlin said.

As part of that, Coughlin said a millionaires’ tax will be considered. He said the details of how the state might get to a $15 minimum wage should be looked at thoroughly. And he said he hasn’t yet indicated if he’s in favor of legalizing marijuana and that the details and hearings will be important.

“The hallmark that I would like to see this Assembly do is to be thoughtful, have people at the end of the day say, ‘They really thought about this stuff. They paid attention to the details,’” Coughlin said.

Coughlin announced two immediate changes. Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, will take charge of the budget panel, the first woman to lead the panel in over 30 years. She has been in the Assembly since 2013.

Coughlin also announced he would be creating one new committee, focused on science, technology and information.

“That will create legislation designed to put New Jersey at the forefront of emerging industries, utilizing the terrific universities, high schools and business leaders that we have here in the state,” Coughlin said. “This is something of real importance to me and I think will be to the state of New Jersey.”

Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, who will keep that same position in the new session, said that lines up with Gov.-elect Phil Murphy’s campaign platform.

“The committee that the speaker has identified is in lockstep with the vision that our new governor has outlined about rebuilding our economy around STEM,” Greenwald said. “It is an important effort.”

Coughlin said the biggest changes in the Assembly will derive from having two additional seats, making it even easier to pass Democratic priorities, and a Democratic governor in Murphy who will sign their bills more often Christie, who set a record for vetoes by a New Jersey governor.

Among the issues that will now pass are equal-pay bills and what Coughlin calls “sane gun control.”

“Reasonable gun control is things like limitations on things like magazine size, some of the things that we’ve talked about in the past,” he said. “Things that I think that everyone would look at and say we respect the Second Amendment, but there are things we ought to put in place.”

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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