Peterson Eviscerates Dems’ Legislative Redistricting Map but will Rival Kean Help Him?

Peterson and Kean

Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-23) is looking to take on U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski for the congressional seat of New Jersey’s 7th District.  However, the current “Turnpike” (Democrat) apportionment map, if adopted, could put Franklin Township, Peterson’s home, into LD-15 along with Trenton.  Unless Republicans such as Peterson’s primary opponent, Tom Kean, one of the apportionment commissioners, have his back as a fellow Republican, and are willing to fight for a more representative map, Peterson could effectively become a Girgenti-like sacrifice on the altar of inter-party gerrymandering, if not intra-party skullduggery.  For Tom Kean, Jr., by all accounts a moderate Republican, the degree by which he and other commission members agree could move a harder conservative out of the way.  Peterson asserts that both of the current proposals are unfair and unconstitutional, and that Republican strongholds such as his home county of Hunterdon have to be preserved intact.  This would better serve conservative voices in the state legislature by, logically, preserving their representatives’ presence and ability to launch realistically viable campaigns.

The 7th Congressional District has historically been Republican.  Malinowski is only the second Democrat in over a century to represent CD7, the previous being Congressman Andrew Maguire of Ridgewood who served from 1975 to 1981.  Malinowski only narrowly defeated Tom Kean, Jr., son of New Jersey’s former Governor Kean, and may collide with Kean again—unless a man like Peterson, a Franklin Township resident and former Hunterdon County freeholder (who lost the Hunterdon GOP Line to Kean this week, incidentally), captures the energy of the revitalized Republican party and pulls the populist rug out from the presumed GOP frontrunner, toppling a prince of one of New Jersey’s political royals as he sets to spar for an office in Washington, DC.

As New Jersey looks to redraw the political maps which will guide and, in many cases, solidify pre-existing partisan power structures for the next ten years, Peterson hotly took issue with the proposals’ characteristics on constitutional and legal grounds.  But above all, Peterson said that the map is just one of many tools Democrats have been using to silence nearly half of the Garden State, politically.

“They don’t follow the constitution,” Peterson told Insider NJ, regarding the products of the bipartisan Apportionment Commission.  “The constitution requires any county that is smaller than a legislative district to remain whole.  Look at what they’ve done to Hunterdon County, not so much so in the Republican version, but in the Democrat version, especially.  It is chopping it up into three different districts where one of the most Republican counties in the state would be overwhelmingly represented by Democrats who could never win dog catcher in the county.  That means that the folks in Hunterdon County will not have fair representation in the legislature and that’s just wrong.  I think it violates the constitution, this whole idea that you just chop [the map] up so that people don’t have a voice, especially more conservative Republicans.  It is just disenfranchising those people and they have every right to have a voice just like every other group does.”

The assemblyman was not happy with either of the proposed maps and lambasted the obvious


gerrymandering evident.  The Republican and Democrat products will continue to be altered in the coming days and weeks ahead, then ultimately be selected by Judge Philip Carchman as the tiebreaker.  “We live in a day where the rule of law and the Constitution are disregarded for political ideology, so I’m not sure, I don’t know exactly how it will be decided,” Peterson said.  “But if I was the tiebreaker, I’d say neither one of these maps meet the Constitution, and they need to be redrawn to at least comply with the Constitution—then we can go by which one is where the people will be best duly represented.”

With regards to the congressional redistricting, the State Supreme Court threw out Republican objections after the Democratic version was selected by Judge John Wallace.  Wallace had said part of his decision was based on the fact that the Republican map had been selected previously.  Peterson was disappointed with the GOP’s inability to make a stronger case and fight for a more favorable congressional map.  With regards to the legislative apportionment, Peterson wants the Republican Party to show more backbone.  “I would just hope that the Republican Party would assert itself in this process, to be perfectly honest, more so than it did in the congressional process. It’s blatant—some of the changes in the map disenfranchises people in a way that is really an affront to our form of government where people are supposed to be represented by people that they choose, not to be gerrymandered where you take a group of people and basically take away all their representation. It’s a problem.  I think that if Tom Kean was wise, he would be advocating for Hunterdon County to be kept whole, because if he were to do something I think the people Hunterdon County—when they recognize they’ve been disenfranchised—will hold him responsible.”

For Peterson, the Supreme Court was out of line and most of the Republican-leaning counties, if held together, would present only a few redistricting options.  This would be a boon for Republican candidates and ensuring, as Peterson asserts, that conservative New Jerseyans are not drowned out in the halls of state power.

“I don’t understand why the folks on the Supreme Court don’t understand this,” Peterson said.  “If Hunterdon and Warren had to be left whole, because of how you connect everything, there are only a few ways that those maps can be drawn. Cumberland would have to be left whole, Salem would have to be left whole, Cape May would have to be left whole.  There’s only so many ways that the map can be drawn thereafter.”  For Peterson, the process was simply a power-move to shut down conservative representation.  “Some of the stuff that is going on is done to disenfranchise people, to silence a voice that somebody doesn’t want to hear, and it’s not for anything other than that. When you silence people, you take away their power.”

Coughlin, left, with Redistricting Co-Commission Chair LeRoy Jones in an undated photo.

For Peterson, the Republican Party of the future, in order to remain representative and viable, must be a bold one, one which is not afraid to back down.  Peterson himself made headlines when he and other Republican members of the legislature protested against the requirement to show proof of vaccination, or recent negative test results, to enter the state house.  The demonstration was lauded by those opposed to vaccination mandates, but condemned by Speaker Craig Coughlin as rowdy and irresponsible showmanship.

“We have to be a party that’s no longer satisfied with the crumbs because eventually, there won’t even be crumbs,” Peterson said.  “You have to be a party that says a huge proportion of New Jersey has a different opinion and needs to be recognized by the majority party, and that they need to be heard. They have a right to be taken into consideration on what goes on in New Jersey, and to constantly shout and push for those people, not to try to just get crumbs. I think that that’s what we really need to do.”

Referring to Governor Murphy’s razor-thin lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, Peterson indicated that there was no overwhelming mandate for Murphy’s agenda.  He condemned a take-all mindset on the part of the Democrats who, despite having a million more registered voters, did not turn out in droves to return Murphy to office on a tidal wave of support.  “Jack Ciattarelli came very close to winning.  That means there’s almost 50% of New Jerseyans who don’t like where this Democrat Party has taken us.  To just ignore them—to disenfranchise and to silence their voice in Trenton with the way that you arrange a map—is really destructive and divisive.  We’re split here, it’s not like 70% of the people voted for Phil Murphy and the Democrats, and therefore they have an overwhelming majority.  Yes, you won the election, but there’s a great number of people who have a different opinion and it should be taken in consideration.”

Peterson slammed state Democrats for a host of issues he said were designed to suppress opposition opinion.  He said the maps were being drawn in a way that conservatives “don’t have representatives in Trenton that share their values.”  Peterson said those voices were “silenced by putting up unconstitutional and illegal vaccine mandates in the capitol building” which would keep some people from being heard.  He said that the arrangements in place for people to protest, where large groups were forced onto the street, were another form of silencing dissent.  He also condemned internal operational habits.  “It’s disenfranchising them by posting bills at the last minute without following the proper order of posting it and announcing that it’s going to be heard in time so that people can make arrangements for childcare and work so you can go and speak out or speak for a bill.  Those tactics have been employed by this Democrat regime for such a long period of time.  The whole thing is to silence the opposition.  If they could, they’d ban our speech, because they can’t win if people have a voice—they can’t win when the opposition has a voice, so they have to silence it.  It’s got to stop, and the Republican Party needs to realize that wearing a muzzle isn’t the way that we’re ever going to win.  You got to take off the muzzle and start shouting from the rooftops to bring back some sanity to Trenton.”

When asked if the spirit of compromise was still a factor in New Jersey parliamentary politics, for


Peterson the situation was a stark and bleak one—scorched earth.  “The majority party has no intention to compromise whatsoever. That’s not in their vocabulary anymore, and it hasn’t been for a decade.  [Assembly House Majority Leader] Lou Greenwald (LD-6) got up and said, ‘we won, we’re going to do what we want.’ He said that at a voting session.  When that’s your attitude and you don’t care about half the state, you just told them to go to hell. That’s very divisive, destructive, and it’s no way to govern.  That’s what communists do.  They say ‘we’re in charge, you’re going to do whatever we tell you, whether you like it or not.’ In a republic, everybody’s voice is taken into consideration.  When you win elections, that does give you certain rights and directional things, but the way that we used to run the government didn’t give you a license to just ignore half the state.”

The Apportionment Commission, who may be the abettors of an unconstitutional representative framework as far as Peterson is concerned, counts Senator Thomas Kean, Jr. among its ranks.  Other members serving are Democratic Co-Chair LeRoy Jones, Jr., Republican Co-Chair Al Barlas, Jon Bramnick-R, Cosmo Cirillo-D, Linda DuBois-R, Michael Lavery-R, Laura Matos-D, Gary Taffet-D, and Diane Testa-D.

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