For the moment short-circuiting a political career that had rising star written all over it, Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-8) of Evesham won’t be back for another term when the year ends.
Stung in May with driving while under the influence and obstruction charges, the Burlington County Republican elected official with a passion for veterans issues – who continues to maintain her innocence in the face of those charges – has decided not to pursue reelection in November.
A moderate who came to elected office as an organizer with the Burlington Young Republicans, Rodriguez-Gregg first won her LD8 seat in 2013, and became the first Latina Republican to serve in the New Jersey General Assembly.
“Serving as the first Latina Republican in the State Assembly, and blazing a trail for other young women to follow, has been an honor and a privilege,” Rodriguez-Gregg said in a statement. “The importance of giving back to your community and your country was instilled in me at a young age, and it will always be part of who I am and what I do. During my time in Trenton I have been a steadfast voice for fiscal responsibility, bipartisan compromise and political moderation – three things that are sorely lacking in both Trenton and Washington today. That’s why, despite not being in public office next year, I have no intention remaining silent on issues of critical importance to our state and nation.”
“I support and respect Maria’s decision to step off the ticket and focus on her family free from the grind of the State Legislature,” Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton said. “She never shied away from a tough vote and is passionate about making New Jersey a better place to live, work and retire. I encouraged her to keep the door open to running again some day and expect she will do just that.”
The assemblywoman, a single mother of two, has faced difficult days in 2017.
“I’ve had a lot of trauma over the past year and it’s all been too much,” she told InsiderNJ. “I couldn’t fully commit to campaigning and I just needed to take some time away and focus on my family.”
Rodriguez-Gregg, 35, also made history as the first roller derby player to hold a legislative seat, and, with the support of the BurlCo GOP, appeared poised for an auspicious career in politics. But the traffic incident and the charge of illegal marijuana possession – which the assemblywoman denies – sparked a spate of bad headlines that put Layton on high alert. Burlington is a competitive general election county to begin with, and as Republican Kim Guadagno appears in danger of getting badly beaten by Democrat Phil Murphy at the top of the ticket and Republican Governor Chris Christie polling at below 20%, the organization does not want to take a chance and open itself up to potentially losing a seat.
The 2016 election of President Donald J. Trump frustrated Rodriguez-Gregg, who never backed him, and decried the tone and tenor of his rhetoric, leadership style and values. “I think it’s more than just being the only Latina Republican in the Legislature,” she told Politico last year. “I think it’s my whole life experience that leads me to not being able to support him.”
Her 2015 speech to fellow Republicans in Atlantic City was a big moment for Rodriguez-Gregg.
“Democrats would have you believe I’m a rare breed. In fact, I’d be an endangered species,” she said. “But while I may be the only one like me holding office in Trenton, I am far from unique in this state and in this country.
“What I think and what I stand for has nothing to do with what I look, or where my grandparents came from,” the assemblywoman added in that speech. “When I sit at my kitchen table I worry about the same thing people across this state are worrying about: paying my bills and making sure that my children have all the opportunities for a better future – and that is why I am a Republican.”
A source close to the BurlCo GOP said possible contenders to replace Rodriguez-Gregg on the November 2017 ballot include freeholders Kate Gibbs and Ryan Peters. Gibbs works in Business Development for the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative, which represents Local 825 Operating Engineers. A retired Navy SEAL who saw multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Peters serves as a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve, assigned to SEAL Team 18, and is an associate with Pepper Hamilton LLP in Philadelphia.
Another name in the mix is Mount Holly Mayor Richard DiFolco, who has served on the Township Council since November 2011 after winning a special election for an unexpired term. Reelected in 2012 to serve a four year term, DiFolco has served as Deputy Mayor for two years and Mayor for two years.
For a fuller list of those names in the game for Rodriguez-Gregg’s seat, please go here.