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Ronald Dancer, veteran N.J. lawmaker, dies at 73

NJ.com logo NJ.com 7/26/2022 Brent Johnson, nj.com
State Assemblyman Ronald Dancer (center) looks at the vote board during in the state Assembly chambers in Trenton in 2019. © Aristide Economopoulos/nj.com/TNS State Assemblyman Ronald Dancer (center) looks at the vote board during in the state Assembly chambers in Trenton in 2019.

State Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, a military veteran and longtime harness horse-racing driver and trainer who served nearly the last two decades as a lawmaker in the New Jersey Legislature, has died after a long illness.

The Ocean County Republican was 73.

A native of the New Egypt section of Plumstead Township, Dancer was an often prolific legislator who helped usher in laws to assist his fellow military veterans, as well as the Garden State’s farming and horse racing industries.

Though Dancer was ideologically a conservative, colleagues from both sides of the aisle also remembered him Saturday for his bipartisanship in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

“Ron’s 20 years in the Assembly are marked not only by his tireless efforts to serve his constituents, even during his illness, but his willingness to work across party lines to accomplish what he believed was best for all New Jerseyans,” Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio, R-Warren, said in a statement. “He was a true patriot, statesman, gentleman, and my good friend. He will be sorely missed.”

Dancer served in the U.S. Army from 1969-71 and professionally raced and trained standardbred horses for 30 years, having hailed from a renowned harness-racing family. His father was Stanley Dancer, a member of the Harness Horse Racing Hall of Fame who remains the only person to drive and train three harness Triple Crown winners.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Saturday state flags will be lowered to half-staff in Ronald Dancer’s honor.

“True to his roots in one of New Jersey’s storied equestrian racing families, in public service he was a work horse not a show horse,” Murphy, a Democrat, said in a statement. “A proud veteran with a quiet demeanor and humble nature, Ron built friendships across the aisle. His focus on New Jersey’s agricultural, horse-racing, and tourist industries, and our honored military veterans, leaves a lasting legacy.”

State Sen. Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said Dancer was “truly a man of integrity, civility, and love for everyone.”

“Ron Dancer should be a model for all elected officials,” said Bramnick, who served alongside Dancer for years in the Assembly before joining the Senate. “I would only hope that people will learn from this great man.”

Dancer served as Plumstead’s mayor from 1990 to 2011. He entered state politics in 2002, when he was chosen to fill a vacancy in the Assembly — the lower house of the Legislature — after Melvin Cottrell died.

He was re-elected multiple times since then, most recently representing Central Jersey’s 12th legislative district, a sprawling district that included parts of Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean counties. Dancer was elected to his latest term this past November.

“His absence will certainly be felt by all of us in the Assembly and by the residents of Ocean County he faithfully served,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said.

It will now be up to the Republican Party in his district to select a temporary replacement for Dancer’s seat in the Assembly. There will then be a special election in November for the final year of his term.

Over the last 20 years, Dancer sponsored laws to allow for special occasion events on preserved farms, provide funding to increase horse racing purses, and permit municipalities to create programs to encourage local shopping via property tax rewards.

DiMaio also said “no service member who ever stepped foot in New Jersey had a greater ally than Ron.”

Murphy earlier this month signed a bill into law that Dancer sponsored expanding the number of military families in New Jersey that qualified for a Gold Star ID card.

Dancer also sponsored a recent high-profile bill that would spare drivers from getting a summons because a frame touches or partly covers the words “New Jersey” or “Garden State” on their license plate. The measure has passed the Assembly but has not yet passed the state Senate.

In addition, he introduced another bill that would allow places of worship in the state to pick a “qualified person” to carry a handgun during religious services — which he co-sponsored in the wake of a mass shooting at a church in 2017. It has never received a vote in the Legislature.

“Ron has left us with a legacy that serves as a beacon for public servants now and New Jersey leaders of the future,” DiMaio said. “Ultimately, it’s not about Republican or Democrat; it’s about the people we serve. Ron served the people well.”

State Sen. Samuel Thompson, D-Middlesex, his district mate, said Dancer served with “tireless energy and unwavering commitment.”

“He was a true gentleman in the Legislature,” Thompson added.

Tom Szymanski, executive director of the New Jersey Republican State Committee, said New Jersey “lost a great man, American, and public servant” and “we will miss his warmth, kindness, and integrity.”

Dancer is survived by Brenda Dancer, his wife of 54 years, as well as two children and three grandchildren.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him at @johnsb01.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit nj.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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