2 lawmakers from the heavily Republican District of NJ are retiring

Two conservative lawmakers representing one of New Jersey’s most Republican districts will retire at the end of their terms.

State MP Hal Wirths announced last week that he will not seek re-election next year, a move that comes nine months after MP Parker Space, also R-Sussex, announced.

That means both Assembly seats in North Jersey’s largely rural 24th Ward – which includes parts of Morris, Sussex and Warren counties – will be up for election in November 2023, when all 120 seats in the state legislature are up for grabs.

Wirths, a former commissioner for the state Department of Labor under former Gov. Chris Christie, announced last Friday that he will not seek a third term, citing health concerns.

“After much thought, I’ve decided I’m at a point in my life where I’m willing to slow it down a bit,” the 57-year-old lawmaker said in a statement. “My wife’s health problems have been public for some time and recently I had a health scare myself. When you’re faced with a profound situation, you start to take stock of your life and I’ve decided there are other things I want to do after my tenure is over.”

Wirths, a former Sussex County Freeholder and member of the State Parole Board, is the Republican Budget Officer in the convention. He has frequently criticized how the Democrats – who control the legislature and the governor’s office – have overseen the state budget.

Space, meanwhile, announced in March that he would not be running for a seventh term after a decade in the assembly, citing “profound changes” in his personal life. This includes the deaths of his father and sister, who retired from the family business Space Farms Zoo and Museum in Wantage.

“These events have given me more responsibility as we seek to continue our family business into the next generation,” the 53-year-old lawmaker said in a statement. “After careful consideration, I feel that ultimately my full attention will be required to run our family business.”

Space, who serves on the assembly’s agriculture committee, said he was “very proud” to be the only farmer in the legislature and, as a “proud” small business owner, he had worked to “balance the needs of employers and employers bring employees.”

He has also drawn controversy. Space has a Confederate flag tattoo on his arm, he posted a photo of himself on Facebook posing with a Confederate flag featuring country music singer Hank Williams Jr., and several groundhogs on Space Farms were named after the Confederate Army Stonewall Jackson General. In 2017, he was recorded calling his Democratic opponent an “elitist 1 percenter, an elitist a**ch.”

Both Wirths and Space said they will remain in office until their terms expire in January 2024. They will be succeeded by whoever wins next year’s elections for the seats.

State Senate Minority Leader Steven Oroho, member of the district upper house of the Legislature, is seeking re-election.

The 80-member assembly is the lower house of the legislature, the Trenton body that makes the state’s laws and passes its budget.

Next year’s elections will be the first under a redrawn legislative map. The state redraws the districts that make up the legislature every 10 years.

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Brent Johnson can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow him up @johnsb01.

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