When I got into NJ politics in the early aughts, I was barely out of rehab (for meth) and desperate to find a way to give my crappy life some meaning. My goals were basic: to have a voice and to shake things up a little.
Or maybe a lot.
My assumption that most others were also here to crash the gate feels, in retrospect, comically naive. Because the truth is, Trenton is teeming with powerful people who are committed to repelling the gatecrashers.
And while there will always be iconoclasts eager to bring change, politics is still dominated by those who want to keep things just the way they are.
I’m reminded of that all the time.
“Male, Pale, Stale”
When former Assemblyman Reed Gusciora left the statehouse to become mayor of Trenton, it marked the departure of the only gay person serving in either house of NJ’s 120-member General Assembly. So when I called it the “the most Heterosexual State Legislature in America,” it wasn’t a joke.
But wait! It gets worse!
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, only 37 of 120 (30.8%) seats in the NJ Senate and General Assembly are held by women. In Congress the imbalance is even starker: only 2 of NJ’s 14-member Congressional delegation are female, 14.3%, a paltry and unacceptable ratio by any measure.
My jaw dropped to learn that current members Bonnie Watson Coleman and Mikie Sherrill are only the 7th and 8th women elected to Congress in NJ’s centuries-long history.
That’s crazy isn’t it?
Do you ever wonder what’s perpetuating that imbalance?
Pushing Drawing Boundaries
Redistricting is a once-a-decade chance for NJ politicians to redraw their own political boundaries. And because it’s NJ the machinations are well underway to protect (mostly male) incumbents at the expense of women and non-aligned/3rd party voters.
There are 10 slots on next year’s redistricting committee, 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans. Democratic state chairman John Currie chose 5 with the rest going to Doug Steinhardt who chairs the NJGOP.
Since both chairmen picked picked 4 men and 1 women, NJ’s redistricting commission is a male-dominated enterprise for yet another decade. After all, when (mostly) male mapmakers re-draw the districts to entrench (mostly) male incumbents, you can reasonably expect more of the same.
When John Currie emerged as the consensus candidate to lead NJ’s Democratic Party in 2013, he fashioned himself as a bulwark against the various machines who dominate NJ politics.
But Currie’s redistricting picks suggest he’s not much different from the machines he’s so keen to contrast himself with. All five of Currie’s picks entrench 1) incumbents who are overwhelmingly male and 2) dual office holders like Mayor/Senator Nick Sacco, Mayor/Senator Paul Sarlo, and Mayor/Senator Brian Stack.
Hetty Rosenstein is NJ director at Communications Workers of America.
“This Commission is too pale, too male and too stale,” Ms. Rosenstein told InsiderNJ.”It’s effectively a conflict for there to be any incumbent elected officials, County Chairs, or paid staff of incumbents and county chairs on the Redistricting Commission.”
And thanks to Currie, sitting lawmakers, county chairs, and paid staff was all we got.
It’s a frustrated tenor echoed by Sue Altman, NJ director of NJ Working Families.
“These picks are not representative of the state,” Ms. Altman told InsiderNJ. “Already we have state legislators that are not representative of the population. To double down on this for the redistricting commission shows that beneath it all, you can change things symbolically…but NJ politics is about two things: power and money.”
Two- Party Stranglehold
There are plenty of people who don’t care if women and gays are underrepresented in the halls of power.
But did you know that when the new maps are drawn non-aligned and third party voters also get screwed?? That’s because, as previously described, redistricting is dominated by self-interested partisans who are all about that statue quo.
There are 6,486,299 registered voters in NJ. That number includes tons of unaffiliated voters, 2,437,147 to be exact + another 79,619 3rd party voters in NJ. Together that’s a plurality who chose to reject the two parties that dominate redistricting in NJ.
Micah Rasmussen runs the Rebovich Institute for NJ Politics at Rider University.
“The appointment of insiders from both parties reminds us of the calls from advocates for unaffiliated voter representation during the last attempt at commission reform,” Mr Rasmussen told InsiderNJ. “If it is worthwhile public policy for 2.5 million Democrats to be represented, and for 1.5 million Republicans to be represented, why should the potentially very different priorities of 2.5 million unaffiliated voters be left unrepresented?”
Stuff of Legacy
New Jersey is a lot bluer that it was 7 1/2 years ago and NJ Democratic Chairman John Currie deserves some credit for that leftward tilt. But with those five redistricting pick, Mr. Currie could’ve stuck a fatal blow to an Old Boy’s network keen to preserve a system which favors them at any cost.
Instead, Chairman Currie did the exact opposite of that.
What a pity.
Jay Lassiter is the Court Jester of NJ Politics. He’s over it.