Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho will not seek re-election to his 24th district State Senate seat this year, setting up a contested primary for his solidly Republican Sussex-based seat and fight over the top Senate leadership post, the New Jersey Globe has confirmed.
His decision came as a shock to Republicans in Trenton and in his conservative Northwest New Jersey legislative district, where he had widely been expected to run for a sixth term. Oroho was popular with Republicans and had strong relationships with many Senate Democrats.
Just two weeks ago, Oroho launched his re-election campaign for re-election.
“Circumstances have changed and I’ve made a personally difficult decision that I will not be a candidate for re-election,” Oroho said in a statement. “However, I am comfortable that I am making the right decision for my family and me.”
Oroho’s retirement will plunge the race for two open Assembly seats in the 24th. There is already a large field of candidates for the seats of Assemblymen Parker Space (R-Wantage) and Hal Wirths (R-Wantage), who are also retiring.
The unexpected retirement announcement could push one of the Assembly candidates to switch to the Senate race. Sussex is expected to retain the Senate seat, although there are no assurances of that. Space has already announced his candidacy for the Senate.
“No one elected official is indispensable, and many talented individuals are ready to take up the mantle when given the opportunity,” Oroho said.
The 64-year-old Oroho was first elected to the Senate in 2007 when Robert Littell (R-Franklin) retired after 40 years in the legislature. He became minority leader one year ago after Thomas Kean (R-Westfield) gave up his Senate seat to concentrate on his race for Congress.
“I am also very much aware that when I first ran for the state Senate, if successful, I expected that I would serve no more than ten years, mainly because I believed in some sort of term limits,” he said. “Having now served in different legislative roles, I have come to appreciate and understand that the opportunities and strategic knowledge that comes with legislative experience is very valuable.”
Oroho had served on the Franklin Borough Councilman and as a Sussex County Freeholder before running for the State Senate.
In that race, Oroho defeated Assemblyman Guy Gregg (R-Washington) in the Republican primary by 385 votes, 41%-49%. Oroho ran with the endorsement of Littell and his wife, former GOP State Chair Virginia Littell.
The popular Oroho has had no difficulties in keeping his Senate seat in what is probably the most staunchly Republican legislative district in New Jersey. He defeated Bill Hayden, now a Sussex freeholder, in the 2017 primary with 74%, and Daniel Cruz, now a candidate for the 2024 GOP U.S. Senate nomination, with 83%.
“It is hard for me to believe that I am now in my 16th year in the New Jersey Legislature, an honor I never anticipated, and my 22nd year in elected office,” Oroho said. “It is truly humbling.”
Oroho said that he as recently celebrated the birth of his tenth grandchilren, “and time praying and contemplating while recovering from a recent illness.”
“I have made my decision for a number of personal reasons that I will mainly keep private. It was a difficult decision, however, one particular thought that kept gnawing at me was the commitment of completing a four-year term. If I cannot readily commit to completing the whole term, it’s not fair to the voters and inappropriate for me to run,” he explained. “It’s time for me to be a more attentive Pop Pop.”
Despite a potentially competitive legislative map that could, in a perfect storm, give the GOP a path to majorities in the Senate and Assembly in the November mid-term election, Republicans had struggled to raise money and recruit top-tier challengers in winnable Democratic-held districts.
“I pledge that I will continue to work incessantly to try to achieve a Republican majority in the State Legislature,” said Oroho. “If we are ultimately successful, that will be an accomplishment for me to cherish. If we come up short, then it will naturally be time for someone else to take up the task.”
He said he was proud of his accomplishments in the Senate.
“Although admittedly frustrated at being in the minority, I felt I was still able to work collaboratively to affect positive outcomes for my constituents and state residents alike.” Oroho said. “There are many issues I wish I could have pushed further along, but I’ll leave knowing I was persistent and always tried my best.”
This story was updated at 10:10 AM with comment from Oroho.