Redistricting in the Post-Sweeney Era

Chairman Jones

Six months ago, Steve Sweeney was one of the most powerful politicians in the state.

Now, he’s basically a non-person.

Like an old Soviet leader who is purged from the history books, state Democratic Chair LeRoy Jones said tonight that Sweeney was removed from the panel revising the state legislative map in the best interests of the Democratic party.

That was a pretty remarkable statement if you think about it. A guy who was probably the second most important Democrat in New Jersey is now not equipped to represent the Democratic party on a redistricting panel.

Jones, who made his comments at tonight’s meeting of the state’s Apportionment Commission, said he may be a lot of things, but “naive is not one of them.”

He explained that he expected, and was ready for, a potential backlash.

That could be, but Jones got little of that tonight.

Democratic members on the commission who spoke praised Jones for his decision, as did Sue Altman of the state’s Working Families Alliance.

Speaking in the public portion of the meeting, Altman, who has tangled with the South Jersey Democratic machine exemplified by Sweeney, praised Jones’ courage and foresight.

Others spoke favorably that Sweeney was replaced by Laura Matos, who is Hispanic.

As the public portion continued, speakers urged the commission to be mindful of how the state’s population of 9.3 million has become more diverse. Their point was that the commission should take into account the state’s increased Latino and Asian population and ensure those groups have adequate representation in Trenton.

There was also a general call from a speaker representing a business group that the commission create “balanced districts.” The speaker said politically balanced districts tend to produce moderate legislators who are better able to represent a majority of residents.

Leslie Bockol of NJ 11th for Change, a public interest group,  specifically mentioned both LD-26 and its incumbent senator, Republican Joe Pennacchio. Bockol urged the commission to make the traditional Republican district more competitive. Similar comments were aired regarding neighboring LD-25. Both districts are Morris County centered.

A very practical problem with forming truly competitive districts is that Democratic registration statewide exceeds GOP registration by more than 1 million. So it’s very difficult – mathematically speaking – to achieve all that many genuine competitive districts. And if GOP districts are made less Republican, it would inevitably mean that some Democratic districts would turn out to be less Democratic.

There were also pleas to maintain current district geography. Speakers said they wanted Somers Point in Atlantic County to stay in LD-2 and that Wayne should not be split into two districts.

The commission’s next meeting is set for Feb. 2 at noon, also virtual.

The new map is expected next month, although there is no real reason to rush. The next Legislative elections are not until 2023.

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