In Allen, Ciattarelli finds a champion for women

Can GOP running mate help reverse party’s struggle with women voters?

By: - August 5, 2021 7:05 am

Diane Allen (Amanda Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Diane Allen was already a trailblazer when she first ran for the Legislature in 1995.

Allen, now Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli’s pick for lieutenant governor, had given up her role as a news anchor at a Philadelphia-based CBS news affiliate a year earlier after reaching a settlement with the broadcaster over age and gender discrimination. She lodged the complaint after the station replaced her with a younger woman.

The spat would shape her career in public office. But her first foray into politics, made decades earlier, ended in a spectacular defeat that saw her finish seventh in a six-person race for Moorestown School Board. She said she was later told she lost because, at 21, she was too young and unwilling to engage in the gamesmanship that often defines New Jersey politics

“They said it just wasn’t my time,” she told a crowd gathered at a Moorestown farm Wednesday morning. “I’ve got to tell you, women have heard that a lot in politics — in fact, in a lot of things.”

Allen championed gender equity issues during the 22 years she spent as a lawmaker. The landmark pay equity bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed in 2018 bears her name, and Allen has continued to advocate for greater representation of women in public office since giving up her state Senate seat three years ago.

“We had a lot of common experiences, and I missed her when she retired,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen). “I missed having a voice in the Republican caucus that people might listen to and also having a strategic partner.”

Allen in the Legislature

As a lawmaker, Allen frequently broke from party leadership on women’s issues. She was one of just two Republican senators to support an override of the pay-equity bill late in Gov. Chris Christie’s second term.

She also backed LGBT rights at a time when support for those issues was rare among members of the Republican party.

“When we talk about bringing more women into office and the value of having women on both sides of the aisle, she really has epitomized that in many ways, because she has worked well across the aisle,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics. “She, I think, always has put the state and her values ahead of party, and I think that sometimes has cost her.”

Allen is involved in CAWP programs to train women to run for office and to educate them on leadership in the political world. After retiring from the Legislature in 2018, Allen launched a political action committee to encourage women to run for office, regardless of where they fell on the political spectrum.

She was already a well-known figure when she entered the Legislature, and her popularity in the Burlington-county-based seventh legislative district did not wane throughout her tenure.

For all but two months of the 20-year span she served in the Senate, Democrats held both of the district’s Assembly seats, yet Allen repeatedly won re-election with safe — and occasionally stunning — margins.

Those acquainted with Allen paint a picture of a woman who is exceedingly kind and empathetic.

Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky, who said she seldom interacted with the Republican lawmaker, recounted receiving a call from Allen on the day she launched a lawsuit accusing Fox News and its then-chairman, Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment.

“Speaking to her gave me just an immense sense of comfort and my gratitude to her for reaching out is immense, and I will never forget her incredibly kind gesture,” Roginsky said. “She did not need to make that phone call. She made it woman-to-woman, and as a woman in television who had experienced what she had experienced making that call to another woman who was experiencing something very similar many years later.”

Others cite Allen as being among the state’s foremost women leaders.

“I really think she listened to her constituents and presented things that were solutions to problems,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Morris).

Ciattarelli strategy

The Burlington County resident’s selection also marks the Ciattarelli campaign’s first significant shift toward the center since the end of a primary that pitted the former assemblyman against two fervently pro-Trump candidates.

It remains to be seen how her position on the ticket impacts the race, but her presence could help to reverse Republicans’ recent struggles with suburban women, a key voting bloc whose support for the GOP waned under Donald Trump’s lone term as president.

“I don’t know where Diane stands and what she feels about Donald Trump — but she is the voice of moderate Republicans, the kind of Republicans that a lot of those suburban college educated women in New Jersey are,” Walsh said.

Ciattarelli and Allen in Moorestown on Wednesday, when Ciattarelli officially announced her as his running mate. (Photo by Amanda Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

The Republicans are already seeking to contrast Allen’s history of advocacy to the troubles faced by Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign, and with her on the ticket, they have a credible messenger.

In 2018, Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennen publicly accused Al Alvarez, who led Muslim and Latino outreach for Murphy’s campaign, of sexually assaulting her in April of the previous year, also charging administration officials disregarded the allegation before she went public.

At Wednesday’s event in Moorestown, Allen criticized Murphy over the episode, noting he gave Alvarez “a great job.”

“He does nothing until he’s going to get some of the blowback on his own personal face,” Allen said, adding, “He waits and waits and waits. We can’t have that. When you see something that’s wrong, you need to fix it. You can’t put your head in the sand.”

Roginsky also charged the governor’s 2017 campaign was a hostile environment, particularly for women.

I’ve got to tell you, women have heard that a lot in politics — in fact, in a lot of things.

– Diane Allen

Still, it’s not clear how much Allen’s history as a GOP moderate will do to temper the rightward lurch Ciattarelli’s campaign has made since June.

The former assemblyman has embraced Trump as the party’s leader despite opposing him in 2016, and he has courted fringe elements of the GOP opposed to vaccines and LGBT curricula required under a recent New Jersey law.

During a press gaggle following a formal announcement of her addition to the ticket, Allen did little to put daylight between herself and her running mate.

“I am unhappy about parents not being included in a lot of decisions being made, and I think that’s where Jack is too when it comes to school,” she said. “You saw my grandkids up there. There’re some things that I don’t think they need to be taught at seventh or eighth grade.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.