Gov. Chris Christie isn’t the only New Jersey politician traveling the country.
Longtime state Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, also has visited half a dozen states over the last several weeks to speak about the challenges and successes of female legislators and the support available from the National Foundation for Women Legislators, which is holding its annual conference in September in Oklahoma City.
Allen has served as chairwoman of the nonpartisan group since last March.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve gotten to meet a lot of amazing women,” Allen said Monday about her recent travels as part of the foundation’s “Dome Tours,” which have taken her to Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee during the last six weeks.
In each state, Allen met with women caucuses to speak about their successes and the challenges many still face. She has shared war stories and best practices of female lawmakers from across the country.
Allen, a New Jersey legislator since 1996, said one of the takeaways from her travels is that despite the great strides made by women during the last several decades, they still face challenges in politics.
She cited Sen. Katrina Frye Shealy, a first-term Republican senator in South Carolina who is the only woman in the state’s upper house. Earlier this year, Shealy garnered headlines for squabbling with a fellow senator, who said women were a “lesser cut of meat” during a legislative dinner.
“In South Carolina, there is just a single woman senator. It’s hard to imagine that’s still the case,” Allen said.
Another lawmaker Allen met was Mary Fallin, the first female governor in Oklahoma, a state where women hold 12 percent of the legislative seats.
Nationally, women hold just over 24 percent of state legislative seats. In New Jersey, the number is about 30 percent.
“It’s encouraging to speak to other women who have gone through the same trials trying to break through the old-boy network,” Allen said. “Women make great legislators, I think, because they’re always ready to reach across the aisle to find solutions. For women, it’s not the political outcome that’s so important but actually solving the issue.”
Another frequent topic during her travels: Christie and his possible run for the White House.
Although recent polls have him trailing among a deep field of Republicans pursuing or exploring a presidential bid, Allen said most of the women lawmakers she spoke with are huge Christie fans.
“So many people wanted to know about Chris Christie because they just love him,” she said. “There was really a huge well of support out there for him.”
His appeal to female legislators is simple, Allen said: “He stands up and says what he thinks, and what he believes. Most women legislators need to have that ability, because that’s what it takes.”
Allen, who was rumored to possibly be Christie’s running mate during his first gubernatorial election in 2009, said people outside of New Jersey also don’t seem overly concerned about the Bridgegate scandal.
“The folks who live in other states don’t let that chatter influence what their thoughts are,” she said. “They see him as a guy who’s a straight talker, and they like that.”