No ‘box’ needed for First Lady Tammy Murphy

“I think everyone’s put me in a box,” New Jersey’s new First Lady Tammy Murphy said in a recent interview that was part of a profile by The Record and

“I’m not sure that that box is going to contain me because I am very flexible,” she added.

Flexible or not, we can’t pretend that our state’s leaders or voters have ever defined what the “First Lady” box should look like.

It’s disingenuous to suggest that any political spouse should or ever has played merely a sideline role.

So let’s at long last talk about the dimensions of the box— and let’s acknowledge that elected officials have a long history of relying on their spouses as partners/advisors.

Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and yes, Hillary Clinton. The list of political spouses shaping history is long.

Here in New Jersey, we’ve had first ladies head campaigns for everything from mental health reforms to hurricane relief.

What the electorate should care about is whether a spouse— or any adviser to the governor— follows ethical standards, avoids conflict of interest and is accountable to the public.

And that logic applies to Ms. Murphy and she meets those standards as well.

For those who don’t know Tammy, she is an accomplished leader in her own right. She is a successful businessperson, a strong environmental advocate and sits on the leadership board of her alma mater— a major state university. She helped start a respected and vital youth hotline in Monmouth County. Tammy cares deeply about our state and she works tirelessly to make New Jersey a better place for all of us to call home.

That’s why Tammy Murphy is exactly what we need in a first lady. She and Phil are true partners in how they live their lives and raise their family.

Gov. Phil Murphy is a governor for a 21st century New Jersey. The governor has been clear about his vision for a stronger, fairer state, and has made it equally clear that everyone has something to contribute. He pledged that his cabinet would look like New Jersey and he kept his word by nominating more women and people of color than any other governor in our state’s history.

In fact, the majority of Murphy-appointed cabinet officers are women. It’s about time.

As a legislator, having an open door with the governor’s office is critical. And with Tammy, it’s like having two doors. I know when I talk with the first lady she will go back to the governor as an honest broker. A major part of Tammy’s value to our state is making sure Gov. Murphy hears all opinions and concerns. To be clear, New Jersey has only one governor, and he has a remarkable partner.

I’ve relied on my partner, Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle, over the years as I’ve worked to empower people throughout my career, particularly those whose voices have been ignored. Whether it’s families dealing with autism, the LGBTQ community or young people who have been bullied, my legislative efforts have been dedicated to making sure that everyone is treated with the dignity they deserve.

In 2018 it should be a given that New Jersey’s first lady should be a strong partner in helping move our state forward. In 2018 we shouldn’t put a first spouse "in a box" where they would be seen and not heard. Most of all, in 2018 we need to get past outdated stereotypes about the role of women in powerful places.

Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat, represents the 37th Legislative District in the New Jersey Assembly.