Legislative retirements up over recent years with weeks left until filing deadline

By: - February 6, 2023 7:09 am

Sen. Steven Oroho, left, is one of four senators who have already announced they will not seek reelection in November. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

At least one-tenth of New Jersey’s lawmakers have announced they won’t seek another term in the Legislature, roughly matching retirements in comparable cycles over the last decade-and-a-half — with the prospect of more to come in the seven weeks until candidates must file to get a spot on the ballot.

Four senators and eight Assembly members have said they are not seeking reelection. Their ranks include some of the most senior Republicans in the upper and lower chambers, other longtime lawmakers, and a handful of newer legislators whom voters have placed under the golden dome only once.

“You can see retirements right in this range in other years where both houses are up, but it doesn’t really get above this number,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, adding, “We have the very real possibility that this is not it.”

In 2021, the last time all 120 legislative seats were up for grabs, three incumbent senators and two incumbent Assembly members opted not to seek reelection. In 2017, the number was three in the Senate and five in the Assembly.

Sussex County Republicans Sen. Steve Oroho, the senate’s minority leader, and Assemblyman Hal Wirths, the chamber’s GOP budget officer and a former state labor commissioner, have they will not seek another term. Both represent the 24th District.

In his announcement, Wirths cited his wife’s health issues and a recent scare related to his own health. Oroho said he wants to spend more time with his family and fears he, at 65, could not commit to a four-year term.

“A lot of people said, ‘Run, and then you win reelection … and then leave early,’” Oroho said. “That just didn’t sit right with me. I just don’t think that’s right to the voters. I said if I can’t commit, I shouldn’t do it.”

Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sussex), the 24th District’s third legislator, had announced he would retire but launched a Senate bid after Oroho said he would not run for the Senate again. Space said he fears the departures of all three legislators in this solidly Republican district would leave constituents without continuity of service.

Two other Republican Senators, Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington) and Christopher Connors (R-Ocean), have said they would not seek to return to the Legislature.

For Stanfield, retirement has already been once delayed. The former six-term Burlington County sheriff resigned that position in May 2019, only to be recruited to run against then-Sen. Dawn Addiego after Addiego switched parties and became a Democrat. Stanfield ousted Addiego in 2021.

Connors, who has served in the Legislature since 1990 and in the Senate since 2008, is the longest-serving legislator to announce their retirement this year.

Only one Democratic senator, Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson), is not seeking reelection. The longtime incumbent and mayor of North Bergen — one of a handful of dual officeholders grandfathered in under the state’s 2008 ban on the practice — was redrawn into the district represented by Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson) and opted against a primary against Stack.

Eight members of the Assembly have said they do not plan to return to the Legislature after November’s legislative elections. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

In the Assembly, members not seeking reelection include Dan Benson, Annette Chaparro, Sadaf Jaffer, DeAnne DeFuccio, Angelica Jimenez, Pedro Mejia, Kevin Rooney, and Wirths.

Benson (D-Mercer) has launched a campaign to become Mercer County’s executive, and Jimenez (D-Hudson) is seeking a seat on the West New York town commission. Rooney said he will focus on his private sector work.

Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Somerset) said she wants to allow for a greater focus on her family and academic career. Her departure will leave an empty seat in the competitive 16th District, which she was elected to serve in 2021.

Jaffer said concerns over race-based political attacks and a political landscape where lawmakers are increasingly targets for violence or harassment played a role in her choice.

“I feel like a lot of people were shocked. In a way, I was shocked, and I’m still kind of processing the decision, but at the end of the day, you have to go with your gut and what is working for you,” Jaffer said.

March 27 is the deadline for candidates to file nominating petitions for legislative campaigns. 

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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.