Second Chance For Redistricting
2013 is moving fast. The 2013 New Jersey state elections are only eight months away and with them comes a second chance to prove that competition is not dead in New Jersey. It is going to be an uphill battle though.
For all intents and purposes, competition is sinking to the bottom of the Hudson River with cement shoes on its feet. Redistricting was supposed to help, but it didn’t. With every census, New Jersey redraws its districts to accommodate population changes. They set up a committee with five Republicans and five Democrats and they argue for a bit until eventually siding with their party’s proposed district map. Then a nonpartisan tiebreaker is chosen by the New Jersey Supreme Court and brought in to ultimately decide which map New Jersey will go with for the next ten years.
New Jersey keeps it pretty simple because for the third consecutive decade Alan Rosenthal, a professor at Rutgers University, was chosen to be the ultimate decider. Rosenthal is clearly more than qualified and I have no problems with his credentials, only with his objective. Rosenthal went into that meeting fully intent on maintaining the “continuity of representation.” The status quo is what Rosenthal was after and by God did he get it.
Rosenthal chose the Democratic proposal for the redistricting map, which kept the status quo because the Democrats were in control of the Assembly and Senate and wanted to keep it that way. They also had an aside objective of making traditionally Republican districts more competitive for Democrats. Do not let that fool you though. The Republicans were not exactly interested in making all districts more competitive, just the districts that were Democratic strongholds and since they were not in power, that simply meant more change than the Democratic map.
I will use my hometown’s old district as an example. The 26th District has been a Republican stronghold for years. It is suburban to rural and lacks a major city. With the Democratic redistricting of 2011, the 26th District lost eight of its fifteen original municipalities and picked up six more. That is some serious shuffling or so it would appear. The Democrats had a good strategy for trying to break this Republican fort. Hispanics, who generally vote Democrat, were a non-factor in the 26th because they only held 4.3% of the population. The Democratic redistricting map added the large municipalities of Rockaway and Jefferson Township to the 26th, and with the other four additions, boosted the 26th’s Hispanic population up to 7.1%. Unfortunately for Democrats, the ploy did not work and the Republican dominated district remained, well, dominated by Republicans.
As I stated before, the Democrats were already in control of the Senate and Assembly and that is why a change like the one in the 26th was an afterthought and probably not as radical as any Republican measure would have been. All the Democrats needed to do was make sure their strongholds were not the subjects of tampering. Any way they could shake up Republican districts was just an added bonus. That is why Rosenthal went with the Democratic map because it kept everything pretty much the same.
The only change from the previous election, even with the redistricting, was one more Assembly seat went to the Democrats. It went from 47-33 to 48-32. Get excited. The Senate was completely unchanged as far as numbers are concerned, remaining at 24-16 in favor of Democrats.
New Jersey hates change. That is why there are still over 500 municipalities and why every school district fights tooth and nail against regionalizing. Regardless of whether or not it will save them money, people are still afraid of change.
2013 is a special year in that all 120 state seats are open again. State Senators, who are normally elected to 4-year terms, are only elected to 2-year terms following a redistricting year so all 40 Senators and all 80 Assemblymen are up for re-election. It is a second chance to bring back competition to a status quo state. Whether it will happen or not is beyond me. I am not even sure how many people out there know that their municipality might be in a completely new district with completely new names on the ballot.
If you are at all curious, visit the New Jersey Legislature website and locate your municipality. You can even click the district for more information on it. In order to know whether or not you and your municipality could be better represented, you first need to know who is representing you now. If they are great, then there is no need to raise the red flag. However, if the same person has gone uncontested for years, it might be time to try to change that. Believe you me, no one is going to do it for you. Especially not in a state so averse to change like New Jersey.