It’s that time of the decade, my friends, when political hacks gather in the wake of the decennial national census to assess the various gains and losses in population distribution throughout the Garden State and, after tucking the U.S. Constitution into the nearest desk drawer, proceed to reconfigure the state’s congressional districts from 13 to 12, reflecting the decline in population as the result of productive taxpayers fleeing New Jersey for greener pastures in other states.
For all practical purposes and in spite of the fact that a bipartisan commission will review the data and make its recommendation, the redistricting process itself will be a purely political one with every consideration given to preserving the status quo of districts that are little more than gerrymandered fiefdoms with voter populations carefully carved out to ensure near-perpetual incumbency of one party or the other.
New Jersey’s Congressional redistricting effort presents the highest of stakes for one U.S. Representative this year as the state is slated to lose one member of the delegation, dropping the representation to 12.
Speculation is rampant over which congressman is in the most danger of losing his seat and who might be safe when the game of musical chairs stops in January. The current makeup is seven Democrats and six Republicans so the chances of an agreement that all sides can live with are scarce, sources tell PolitickerNJ.
The commission has not yet met as a whole and the deadline for the new map is still six months away, but Interviews with sources on both sides of the aisle as well as census numbers released earlier this year hold clues as to how each side may proceed once the 13th member of the commission is named. The tie-breaking member could be named as early as Friday but will more likely be chosen by the Supreme Court next month.
Every district in the state needs to add residents to conform to the ideal population size of 732,658. Since the districts were drawn 10 years ago, District 4, which has been represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith for more than two decades, has grown the most, followed by District 12, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Holt Rush Holt (D-12). Both cover the central portion of the state.
So, which districts will be combined to create the new district? Common political sense tells us that, ideally, a sparsely populated district would be folded into a more densely populated district, giving the advantage to the incumbent in the larger district.
For Republicans, this is a challenge: Democrat strongholds usually exist in heavily populated urban districts, while GOP strongholds are generally found in suburban and rural districts. Consequently, the best Republicans can hope for is a merging of two Democrat-controlled districts, thereby reducing the number by one and preserving intact all the GOP-controlled districts.
Democrats will have an easier time of it:
For their part, Democrats hope to convince the 13th member that combining two Republican districts makes the most sense as New Jersey is still a blue state at its core. One source told PolitickerNJ the likely targets of that map would be some combination of districts 5, 7 and 11, represented by U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen.
But both sides in several interviews have conceded that a so-called “fair fight” district is a likely outcome. Early speculation focused in part on the 7th District, represented by Leonard Lance and the 12th District represented by Rush Holt. That district would be the easiest to draw and Lance is in only his second term and has little seniority.
But the combination that includes Rothman and Garrett also makes sense, sources have said. Garrett’s district is sprawling and runs across the entire top of the state, along the way, touching Districts 11, 8 and 9. Both the 5th and the 9th District need to grow substantially, giving the commission fewer displaced voters to deal with.
At this point in time, no one knows with any certainty how the commission will decide. While it makes some sense to target CD-07, Leonard Lance is a RINO and therefore not as potent a threat to Democrats as Scott Garrett, a bona fide conservative and Tea Party favorite. If I had to make a bet this early into the game, it would be on the combination of Garrett’s district with either Pascrell’s or Rothman’s.
What’s missing from all of this? Why…a constitutionally constructed redistricting map, of course. It’s my understanding that our friends at the Bayshore Tea Party group have produced just such a map (as they have done earlier for the state legislative districts) and I am understandably anxious to see it. Bob Gordon: if you are reading this, where the hell is the map?
If Garrett’s district falls under the commission’s scalpel, there will be no need to hold your breath waiting for Steve Lonegan to spearhead the effort to support him: Boss Hog will be on top of it like white on rice before you can breathe in. The real question is this: if the BTP’s new map puts gerrymandered Republican districts at risk of a “fair fight” election, will Lonegan’s goon squad at CNJ express support for the map for cleaving to the letter and intent of the U.S. Constitution or will they attack it for upsetting the status quo?