Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver is a Problem Solver

Lieutenant governor Sheila Oliver hopes to tap her wealth of experience to address NJ’s toughest issues.

Shelia Oliver, left, celebrates with then governor-elect Phil Murphy at an election night rally last November in Asbury Park.
Shelia Oliver, left, celebrates with then governor-elect Phil Murphy at an election night rally last November in Asbury Park.
Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Our state has no shortage of issues to deal with, such as school funding, free community college and funding for the public employee pension system. But for Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, the priorities are clear: economic growth and affordability.

“To help secure our economic future, we need to focus on creating attractive, walkable neighborhoods that are appealing and affordable for young people,” says Oliver. This, she says, will help sustain local businesses.

But to make neighborhoods attractive, they must also be affordable. “Affordability,” says Oliver, “is the ability of a family to live that dream of home ownership, sending their kids to college and being able to take vacations every now and then, and to live in a safe community with amenities.”

Oliver’s wealth of experience will help her address such issues. A native of Newark and a 40-year resident of East Orange, she has run a nonprofit, served as an Essex County freeholder, chaired the Assembly Human Services Committee, and in January 2010 became the first African-American woman to serve as speaker of the Assembly. “I am bringing a broad perspective of statewide problem-solving to my job,” says Oliver, 66.

Oliver, a Democrat, was elected lieutenant governor in November on Phil Murphy’s gubernatorial slate. She is the second person—and the second woman—to be elected to the job since it was created under a 2005 amendment to the state constitution.

In addition to her role as lieutenant governor, Oliver serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. In this job, she is responsible for strengthening and revitalizing New Jersey communities. That includes ensuring support services and assistance for residents in need.

Among her priorities in this area, Oliver is interested in expanding access to pre-K education and infant care. “We need to look at women’s return and participation in the workforce,” she says. “The one thing around the affordability issue in our state is women being able to return to the workforce and be confident that their child, age zero to three, is in a safe place, is being cared for properly, and is getting early education.”

To spur economic growth, Oliver says, it’s essential that we invest in “our neglected infrastructure. The only way we are going to be competitive in attracting large companies is by improving our transit and roads.”

Also on Oliver’s radar: “The responsible decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.” This, she says, “will reduce illegal trade in the streets and drive down incarceration rates for nonviolent offenders, many of whom are people of color fallen victim to a failed system. Legalization is also an economic opportunity for the entire state and will be a source of much-needed revenues as we strive to find more just and sustainable ways to balance the budget.”

In approaching all of these questions, Oliver draws on her commitment to public service. “What drove me into public service was a disdain for injustice,” she says. “Early on, I realized government could be a vehicle to eradicate injustice. I knew that as a kid. I had great teachers in the Newark public school system…and I read some of the greatest books ever written that focused in on this issue, such as A Tale of Two Cities and The Grapes of Wrath. They are centuries old concepts, and they are relevant today.”

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