The Ominous Currents Running through 2021 Redistricting

Malinowski, Pascrell, Sherill and Wildes rail about SALT.

People want change, or do they?

After listening to many of the public hearings of the state’s congressional redistricting commission, it was clear there was much support for the status quo.

Many speakers said they wanted CD-7 and CD-10 to stay as is. What, if anything, happens to these districts has great political implications.

Let’s start with CD-7, which covers parts of six counties – Essex, Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren – in the center of the state.

More than one speaker at the 10 public hearings observed that the district was created 10 years ago as a “safe” Republican district.

How has that worked out?

Not very well. No one foresaw Donald Trump in the White House a decade ago. His ascension galvanized Democrats, Independents and even some traditional conservative Republicans to the extent that CD-7 is now represented by Democrat Tom Malinowski.

He got elected in 2018 – that was a very good Democratic year – and held the seat in 2020 in a very close election. He beat Republican Tom Kean Jr. by less than 5,000 votes.

But with 2022 looming, Malinowski has been confronted with alleged ethical violations centered around some of his stock deals, a point you can expect Republicans to make repeatedly during next year’s campaign.

This has prompted speculation that Democrats would be willing to change the district in the GOP’s favor in exchange for shoring up other competitive districts.

Those rumors have gotten around and probably was why many speakers from the district said they wanted things to stay the same. Don’t penalize us, because we twice elected a Democrat, was what the commission heard.

If CD-7 does change, a town that may move is Millburn, which as the only Essex County town in CD-7, could be seen as an outlier.

That brings us to the Rahway River, which runs through the district. Speakers said it’s important to keep Millburn and other towns in the watershed in the same district to foster a united front for flood control measures.

That may be an understandable point, but the cynical would observe that with flooding a problem throughout New Jersey, many in the state’s congressional delegation have a grasp of the problem.

Now, let’s move to CD-10, which is a non-competitive district represented by Democrat Donald Payne Jr. It is a mostly minority district that covers parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties. Our focus is on the south side of Montclair, which is in the Tenth while the other part of town is in CD-11. Rep. Mikie Sherrill lives in the CD-10 part of Montclair while representing CD-11. This is permissible.

Redistricting traditionally has protected incumbents as much as possible, so you’d think moving all of Montclair into CD-11 would be a priority.

Not so fast, many speakers told the commission.

Their point was that the large minority population on the south side of Montclair has much more in common with CD-10 than it does with CD-11.

Some pointedly explained that CD-10 residents don’t share interests with the affluent and mostly white residents on the other side of Montclair.

Such division in the “People’s Republic of Montclair?”  Go figure.

With Census data, on which redistricting is based, showing a surge in the state’s minority population, the plea to keep CD-10 basically intact may be convincing.

What the commission does is of paramount importance to congressional candidates all over the state. Many already are announcing campaigns despite not knowing what the playing field is going to look like. One supposes they find the mystery intriguing.

The significance of drawing the congressional map can’t be overstated. Maps often decide which party wins and which party loses. There were many public comments at the hearings, but one can still wonder how much this spectacle resonates with average voters.

Last Saturday, Malinowski, whose CD-7 is certainly in play, held a town hall meeting in Basking Ridge that lasted about 90 minutes. Many topics were discussed – inflation, Medicare, infrastructure, taxes, drug prices.

No one asked about redistricting.

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One response to “The Ominous Currents Running through 2021 Redistricting”

  1. My guess is that nobody at the Basking Ridge town hall asked Tom Malinowski about redistricting because they (being mostly “average voters” to use your phrase) are not following the redistricting process and instead assume that Malinowski will still be their Representative – or at least that they will have the opportunity to re-elect him to be their Representative. Therefore, they were focusing on the issues that he has some influence over as their Representative. On the other hand, those who DO follow the redistricting process know that he has no say in the matter, so what’s the point of asking him?

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