GOP Lt. Gov candidate Diane Allen veers right on immigrants, guns, LGBTQ after touted as moderate

Posted Aug 09, 2021

When Republican governor nominee Jack Ciattarelli picked former state Sen. Diane Allen last week as his running mate, many viewed the move as appeal to moderate voters in blue-leaning New Jersey.

Allen won six terms as a Republican in a largely Democratic district, is known for championing women’s issues, and crossed political lines to vote for gay marriage. Even Gov. Phil Murphy, the Democratic incumbent Ciattarelli is trying to unseat, once called her “a lawmaker who worked across the aisle to do the right things for our state.”

But Allen, now the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, raised eyebrows this weekend for comments she made during a radio interview about undocumented immigrants bringing COVID-19 over the border, as well as remarks about gun laws and the state’s sex education curriculum.

The longtime Burlington County politician was asked during an appearance on the New Jersey Globe Power Hour if she voted for then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, in 2020. She said she did, not because he was “a sterling example of humanity” but because she was afraid current President Joe Biden, a Democrat, was “going to be tearing this country apart.”

“I mean, right now look at all these people with COVID who are coming across the border, and it scares me,” Allen said. “They’re put on buses. I suspect some of them are coming up to New Jersey — not a good idea. (But) the people who are pulled over from the border who are carrying illegal guns or drugs, or whatever. So there’s a lot of things going on that I didn’t want to see go on, and that was the reason that I voted for Trump.”

Ciattarelli’s campaign said Allen was simply agreeing with public health experts and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials quoted in an NBC News story about how more than 18% of migrant families and 20% of unaccompanied minors who recently crossed the border tested positive for COVID-19 upon leaving Border Patrol custody in recent week. The campaign pointed to another NBC News story that some people seeking asylum tested positive after crossing the border in Brownsville, Texas, and are headed to New Jersey.

Allen was also asked during the interview about whether she supports making it easier to allow New Jerseyans to carry concealed guns. She said states that allow concealed carry weapons “seem to have less problems.”

“I look down in Texas, where, as you know, I believe concealed and maybe even unconcealed weapons are allowed, and these people that go into churches and schools and start shooting, there’s generally someone there with gun who can take them out,” she said. “I’d like to look at that.”

And when asked about Ciatarelli’s stance that he’d roll back the state’s LGBTQ curriculum in schools and that he won’t have sixth graders learning about “sodomy” — state guidelines say students should be able to “define vaginal, oral, and anal sex” by eighth grade — Allen said she believes said parents should have a say.

“I mean, my gosh, asking sixth, seventh, and eighth graders to be able describe things that I’m not going to get into on the radio,” added Allen, long viewed as a supporter of gay rights. “I have grandchildren that are in elementary school. I think that parents are the ones who should make those decisions. I mean, I think there’s a group of hardcore, progressive gay Democrats who think this is the way to go. I look forward to speaking with them to see why they think that.”

Members of Murphy’s team and other top Democrats used the comments to continue tying Ciattarelli‘s campaign to Trump, whom polls show is widely unpopular in New Jersey. Saily Avelenda, executive director of the State Democratic Committee, said Allen and Ciattarelli have both embraced the “the most extreme elements of the Republican Party” and support the “Trump agenda.”

Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Action Network, said Allen’s remarks about immigrants are “inaccurate,” “biased,” and “dangerous,” “meant only to increase fear about members of our undocumented community.”

“Senator Allen should immediately apologize for this inexcusable dog-whistle,” Estevez added.

At his coronavirus briefing Monday, Murphy didn’t mention Allen by name but chided his opponents for “repeating this ridiculous Fox News narrative” on immigrants and COVID.

”That’s, like, tin-foil hat stuff,” the governor said.

Murphy and other Democrats appeared to suggest Allen was supporting claims that migrants with COVID-19 are driving up infections in the U.S. Fact checks from USA Today and PolitiFact have rejected that.

But campaign spokeswoman Stami Williams said Democrats are “resorting to making things up” about Allen because the former lawmaker never claimed “these migrants were driving any surge.”

Allen, a former television news anchor in Philadelphia, said in her own statement: “I spent a good portion of my career in journalism and always went through great pains to ensure that the information I conveyed was accurate. I would encourage Governor Murphy to do the same.”

Traditionally, candidates running for New Jersey governor aim to appeal to the middle. Unaffiliated or independent voters have long made up the state’s largest voting blocs.

But political experts note that Allen’s comments are another example of the Ciattarelli campaign tacking right even though New Jersey is an increasingly Democratic-leaning state with a diverse population. Ciattarelli, a former member of the state Assembly, is also a one-time legislator who was long considered a moderate.

Carl Golden, a former press secretary to Republican former Govs. Tom Kean and Christie Whitman, said the Ciattatelli campaign “seems to be playing solely to the Republican base.”

“We’re hearing from candidates about illegal crossings at the border, which New Jersey can’t do anything about in any event,” Golden said. “If at this point they have polling that shows the ticket is in trouble with the base, then we might as well schedule the inauguration tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. I’m baffled by it.”

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said “it’s hard to imagine” Allen “actually believes” her remarks about undocumented immigrants.

“You can only see this as a bald-faced play for keeping the base excited,” he said.

Murray noted this election is reflecting how “the middle has disappeared over the last five years” in the age of Trump.

“You have two very polarized bases,” the pollster said. “But the problem is: If it’s a base election, the base on the left is much bigger than the base on the right.”

Indeed, while Democrats have painted Ciattarelli as being an acolyte of Trump, Republicans have in turn painted Murphy, an avowed progressive, as being too left-wing for the Garden State.

On Monday, Ciattarelli’s campaign released a new online ad saying Murphy “supports an anti-police agenda that enables criminals, vandals, and lawlessness, sending crime rates spiking and our communities reeling, choosing radical policy over public safety.” Murphy has faced criticism from some mayors and law enforcement officials, including the state Police Benevolent Association, over his administration‘s marijuana policy.

Allen on Saturday also rejected the idea she will agree with Ciattarelli on every issue.

“He said right off, ‘We may not agree on everything,’” Allen said. “He said, ‘That’s fine because that’s how real stuff works. And we’ll sit down and we’ll talk about it. And we’ll see if we can all come together somewhere along the line.’ That’s the way government used to work.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-08-10 03:31:21 -0700