“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” – William James
At the special Republican convention to fill her late husband’s seat, Betty Lou DeCroce listened as her male challenger basically told her it was “time for the grow-ups” and she should step aside in the interest of the district, just before she paved him over; and ever since exceeded expectations in a bruising business, dominated by machines, not people, the facsimile of men, instead of women; and increasing mean-spiritedness as a substitute for pragmatic leadership.
In an environment in which the Democratic Party used a pandemic to insulate itself and augment its power in the name of public health, and the GOP used Donald Trump to drown out moderate voices, and men protected men; perhaps, inevitably, the lone casualty of the 2021 Primary Season, all said and done, would be a woman, and it would have to be Assemblywoman DeCroce.
She lost last night by about 400 votes in a Republican Primary that saw her Trump-proud former slate mate deoxygenate her candidacy with negativity, and a supposed replacement who was, like DeCroce, pro-union – but male, and evidently not beyond making the incumbent assemblywoman look like a fire breathing leftist radical to breathe life into the Morris GOP’s Trump base in time for a June 8th win.
In an interview today, DeCroce attributed her defeat to a number of factors, including low voter turnout, the fact that she didn’t get the line in Morris County, bullet-voting, the negative never-ever land attacks against her, and the presence in the Republican Primary of Commissioner Tom Mastraneglo, who drained votes from her.
She took the loss in stride.
“I was always opposed, going back to that first convention,” she told InsiderNJ. “I have always had a race.”
In the end, when she finishes this term and yields to Christian Barranco, the assemblywoman said she will miss the work.
“There are quite a few important things where I am focusing my energies, including women’s issues, children, and learning,’ said DeCroce. “I have a special place in my heart for children with learning disabilities. There are also so many issues on the Banking and Insurance Committee. I think, too, that we have very important transportation issues to confront in this state.”
Politically, the assemblywoman faced the dual challenge of a Democratic Party fat with power on the one side, and a GOP ravenous with anarchy on the other, while she tried to serve her district as a moderate, work-with-the-Democrats Republican in the center.
It proved her undoing in this environment, and she mulled the question hard not 24 hours after her defeat.
“I can’t give you a clear answer on how can a moderate can even survive and try to get some things done,” DeCroce said. “If you’re pragmatic and work with the other party, how do you run against that wing of the party that takes offense to that, and how is our party going to grow with that kind of attitude? No ones going to want to participate and there goes our democracy down the drain.”
She and Webber had a hard history in LD-26, which went back to their two staffs not getting along, prompting the leader to go the speaker to ask for some extra money so the two assembly-people could open separate offices.
But it’s so much bigger than the discord that dogged their office.
“New Jersey has changed, and not for the good of the people of New Jersey,” DeCroce said.
What about the future?
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m going to be a player. I’m going to play in politics, and of course, I still have to finish my term.”
The biggest challenge with the Democrats?
“I would say in spending programs,” she said. “They spend too much and it means the budget is going to burst.”
And the Republicans?
The Trump wing.
“I think there comes a time where people have to accept things as they are but work toward making them better,” DeCroce said. “You’re not going to get better if you’re being hateful and and being vile.”
Like her husband before her, Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce, the assemblywoman asserted the need for the GOP to get along with Democrats.
“We did think an awful lot a like,” she said. “The basic idea is you can create good by getting along with the other side. If you work with the other side it will come back to you. You’re not going over there to be their friend, but you meet them half way and get a piece of the pie. That’s how Alex saw it, and that’s how I see it. There’s no other way when you are in the minority party.”
In the years ahead she would like to see young people immerse themselves in those key issues she championed in the legislature, especially in the interests of the victims of crime. She worked closely with Richard Pompelio and the Victims of Crime Compensation Fund, particularly to help abused women and children.
“I want to see others pick away and solve those problems,” said DeCroce.
She said she looks forward to the gubernatorial contest and to supporting Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli, her former colleague in the assembly.
“I think Jack is more like me – a moderate,” Decroce said. “He will reach across the aisle. I know him. That’s what he does.”
It was a nearly a decade ago that BettyLou DeCroce fought her way into the assembly with the same dedication to pragmatic solutions and fiscal conservatism as her husband, harboring no aversion to working with colleagues from the other party, and with a special place in her heart for women and children, an unforgiving inquisitor and unsparing advocate on their behalf.
It would be fitting in an era of power blandly protecting itself and the angry, asinine implosions of anarchy, that she should not survive the cycle. In New Jersey, as in the country, pragmaticism comes with consequences.