Everyone Wants to Get in on Redistricting

Drawing legislative maps is more exciting than you think.

So many people wanted to comment on two proposed maps this evening that the state Apportionment Commission moved up the meeting by two hours and set another session for 10 a.m. Friday to accommodate everyone. And when the meeting began, one speaker spoke of a “watch party.”

A watch party for drawing maps? Go figure.

What the party-goers and everyone else saw and heard were a lot of complaints.

Many of the gripes centered on a central theme of the redistricting process: New Jersey’s population has become more diverse and the two proposed maps made public on Monday do not reflect that. The maps were proposed by the Democratic and Republican members of the commission. The panel has not said which maps are which, but the reality is that the Democratic map is labeled “Turnpike” and the Republican map, “Parkway.”

One of the speakers, Charlene Walker, said those who don’t consider color and race in the remapping process are being “naive.”

She said the state should have four-majority Latino districts and three-majority black districts.  The proposed maps have two Latino districts and one-black district. There are 40 in all.

There were also observations that the proposed maps do not take into account the increase in the state’s south Asian community.

Race and ethnicity dominated most of the discussion, but there were also comments on the purely political nature of the process. As one speaker noted, both parties devised maps that “aggressively” go after their opponents.

That’s hardly a surprise and members of both parties know it.

One speaker took aim at the Republican map, which puts four Democratic senators into two districts in the central part of the state.

She called the plan a ploy to “stifle” Democratic voters.

From the other side of the aisle came Alice Collopy, the chair of the Republican committee in Morris Plains, which is the hometown of Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber.

The Democratic map would move Morris Plains from LD-26 to LD-25, thereby putting Webber in a district with two GOP incumbents.

Collopy said she knew why.

She said the Democrats “can’t defeat Jay Webber at the polls,” so they want to redistrict him.

Beyond political concerns, some speakers had geography in mind.

A number of speakers objected to proposals to put Hillside in Union County into an Essex County district.- the 27th.

Among other concerns he has with the map, former Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20) of Roselle said he opposes moving Hillside out of the Union-based district, a measure which would make Hillside the only Union County town redistricted to Essex. Likewise, there were similar complaints about a plan to put Red Bank into LD-13 under the Republican map.

In a humorous moment, one speaker railed against the political process in New Jersey dating back to the 17th Century. As he carried on – and on – with his history lesson, the commission asked him to “bring things into the 21st Century.” He did – sort of.

The commission itself has little time for history. Members will begin deliberating next week on the final legislative map for the next 10 years.

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