Public banking is on the ballot today—not as the sort of statewide referendum issue that activists have proposed as a tool for ushering in this bold new approach to financial affairs, but in the form of a candidate who knows a thing or two about banking.
New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial nominee Philip Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who served as President Obama’s ambassador to Germany, is campaigning on a promise to create “a stronger, fairer economy that works for every family—with good jobs, equal pay, fully-funded public schools and a growing middle class.”
It is time to bring the money home so it can build our future. We will do this by redirecting resources to a bank that is committed to making investments in and for New Jersey because it will be owned by the people of New Jersey. Public banking, says the Democrat, represents “the type of big thinking we need to get back to in this state.
Polls suggest that New Jersey voters are ready for big thinking; Murphy leads Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno in the race to replace scandal-plagued Republican Governor Chris Christie. If Murphy wins, that’s a major win for the Democrats on a day that has both parties scrambling.
Also on the ballot today:
- Virginia voters will settle a close (and increasingly bitter) contest to replace Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe. If Republican Ed Gillespie wins, after embracing so many of Trump’s issues and so much of Trump’s style, it will provide an indication of the political potency of the new extremism. If Gillespie is beaten by Democrat Ralph Northam, the result will be a blow to Trump and Trumpism.
- New Jersey and Virginia voters will decide contests for control of state legislative chambers. If Democrats run well, it will be a signal that the party is rebuilding after too many years of setbacks in the states.
- A special election will determine whether Democrats can take charge of the Washington State Senate—and with it unified control of the West Coast state’s government. That would give Democrats in a key state dramatically more flexibility to move in a progressive direction on issues ranging from climate change to gun control to voting rights.
- A special election in Utah will fill the seat of former Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz. If Democrat Kathie Allen, a physician who has been running an aggressive campaign, were to prevail, it would be the biggest upset of the night for her party. It would also force a radical rethink on the part of Republicans going into the 2018 fight for control of the House. A win for Provo Mayor John Curtis, a Democrat turned Republican, would provide some rare good news for House Speaker Paul Ryan.
- Dozens of mayors will be selected from New York to Seattle, from Boston to Atlanta, and beyond. Races for district attorney in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and other locations are likely to see the election of officials who are committed to criminal-justice reform. City-council races in New York, Minneapolis, and other communities could see the election of democratic socialists who were inspired by the 2016 presidential run of Bernie Sanders. And a referendum in the state of Maine will send a powerful signal with regard to the health-care debate, as voters decide whether to expand Medicaid under former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
In New Jersey, Murphy has been the front-runner through much of a gubernatorial race that began last year. But he has not run cautiously. He describes gun violence as “a public-health crisis,” calls for “ending the era of high-stakes testing” in public schools, and promises to defend immigrant rights by opposing “any efforts to use state and local police to assist in mass deportations.” And he has made a big issue of public banking—a proposal that has gained popularity nationwide as a response to the abuses and excesses of big banks, and as a strategy for freeing up funding for public initiatives and communities.
Describing public banking as “the type of big thinking we need to get back on track,” Murphy points to the successful State Bank of North Dakota as a model. But he wants to be even more ambitious, setting up a a bigger bank that would do more in a bigger state. Speaking about state funds, Murphy says, “This is money that belongs to the taxpayers of New Jersey, so it should be invested in them.”
The Murphy campaign pledges that
Phil will bring that money home, so it can build our future. Instead of investing $1.5 billion in foreign banks, a public bank will invest in New Jersey’s main streets—in our infrastructure, our communities, our students, and our small businesses. And it will provide capital to communities that, for too long, have been ignored by the financial system, whether they be women-owned businesses, businesses owned by people of color, or small businesses with big ideas who have up to now only had doors slammed in their faces.
That’s a different way of talking about economic renewal. And if Murphy wins, it could lead to a different way of talking about economic renewal nationally. The national chair of the nonprofit Public Banking Institute, Walt McRee, says, “Phil Murphy has distinguished himself not only in the race for New Jersey governor, but nationally as well with a policy innovation actually capable of turning the state’s economy around.”