👩 12 women are leaving office in NJ, which could become a problem, data shows

👩 Many are leaving public office and others are seeking different seats

👩 The biggest challenge women politicians face is party support

Women’s representation in the New Jersey legislature is at a precarious position in the 2023 state legislative elections, according to data from The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers.

Center director, Debbie Walsh said while 98 women have filed to run for state legislative offices in New Jersey, a record number of women legislators are not seeking re-election in their current districts for various reasons.

Some are leaving public office, some are seeking other seats in the legislature, and some are running for non-legislative offices.

This year, 12 women are leaving their current office, three of whom are assemblywomen running for seats in the state Senate, and nine who are leaving the legislature all together.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz discusses a new package of bills seeking to improve child care in New Jersey at the Statehouse on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ)
Sen. Teresa Ruiz discusses a new package of bills seeking to improve child care in New Jersey at the Statehouse on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ)

These departures represent nearly 30% of women’s representation in the legislature.
“This puts us behind the eight ball,” Walsh said. Seven of the women who are not running have women running for their seats of the same party and with party support.

That’s the good news, she said. But with the other seats, some have no women running for them at all. Some have women who are running, but with the other party, which is a harder situation for them.

“This tells us that the progress we have seen over the years for women in our state legislature is fragile and not inevitable,” Walsh said.

So, in a year like this when there is a record number of women choosing not to run for re-election, there could be a decline in the total number of women serving, she added.
Right now in the state legislature, there are 42 women currently serving, Walsh said. That includes 11 in the Senate and 31 in the Assembly. So, losing a dozen women is a significant decrease, and a significant percentage of the women currently serving in office.

New Jersey Senator Kristin Corrado
New Jersey Senator Kristin Corrado

Walsh said it’s not about trying to get more women interested in running for political office. The big challenge that we face in New Jersey that women don’t face in other states, is the power of the gatekeeper.

“The county party chairs, in particular, wield tremendous power over who runs and who doesn’t run, and who gets that famous party line. Good positioning on the ballot, basically the party’s weigh in, in the primary,” Walsh said.

In most other states, she said the party chairs don’t exert that same kind of control in the primary.

The bottom line is that there are women who want to run for office in New Jersey. The challenge is they are going to get the party support. Walsh said there needs to be more of that.

There also needs to be more women who are the candidates with the party backing in winnable races. We also need to see more women as county party chairs, to be those gatekeepers themselves, and to be the ones who have that kind of power to make the decisions about who runs and who doesn’t, Walsh said.

There are 42 party chair positions in New Jersey. Women only hold 10 of those positions. There needs to be more women taking over these positions, Walsh said, and there needs to be more diversity of women serving in those spots, as well.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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