The New Jersey panel overseeing the redistricting process approved a plan that may allow the Democratic Party to maintain its majority in both houses and keep a check on Republican Governor Chris Christie’s agenda.
The commission of five Democrats and five Republicans, charged with redrawing state legislative districts following the 2010 census, voted 6-5 yesterday in Trenton in favor of a plan submitted by Democrats. Alan Rosenthal, a professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers University, cast the tie-breaking vote.
“The Democratic map, I believe, was more conservative and a less-disruptive map,” Rosenthal told commission members as he cast his vote. “It’s a map that gives the minority party a chance to win the majority in the Legislature, even in what is essentially a Democratic state.”
States redraw the boundaries used to elect lawmakers once a decade following the U.S. census in order to account for shifts in population and growth. Following the last redrawing in 2001, Democrats captured control of the Legislature from Republicans. In a separate process, the state will also redraw the districts used to elect members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“It’s now up to the two parties to have a competition of ideas in the fall,” Christie, 48, told reporters today in Trenton. “I think the elections would have been more competitive and more compelling under our map than they will turn out to be under this one, but we still intend to compete and compete hard to improve our standing in the Legislature.”
The plan would preserve the split of the state’s two largest cities, Newark and Jersey City, into two legislative districts each. It also moves the hometown of the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora of Princeton Township, out of the district he has represented since 1996.
Assemblyman Jay Webber, the Republican co-chair of the commission, said his party is looking into whether the new set of boundaries illegally fractures the 7th District in Burlington County. Both parties said their plan would increase minority representation in Trenton and more equitably distribute population.
Patrick Murray, a political scientist from Monmouth University in West Long Branch and head of its polling institute, said the choice in maps is often crucial in determining which party will control the Legislature each decade.
‘Another 10 Years’
He said the new map will allow Democrats to maintain a check on Christie’s proposals, including reducing pension benefits for state workers and forcing them to pay more for health insurance. The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Christie personally pitched his party’s case to Rosenthal, and in recent weeks the governor has implored voters to elect Republicans in the fall.
“This means Democrats just got another 10 years in control of the Legislature,” Murray said in an interview in Trenton. “On the face of it, it’s the biggest loss of his tenure so far. He forcefully put himself out there in front of this.”
The new map will be used during the November elections, in which all 120 members of the Legislature are up for election. Democrats currently control the Assembly 47-33, and the Senate 23-17.