Shady Deals Unravel When the Light Gets Too Bright

The Freeholder fight unites more than it delights.

As New Jersey Republicans search far and wide for some good news after two election cycles in which they lost the governor’s office, four congressional seats and many lesser offices, you wonder if they are thinking about their best chance for a comeback – Democrats doing stupid things.

If not, they’re certainly thinking about that now.  Legislative Democrats over the weekend abandoned a  misguided effort to revamp how district boundaries are drawn after the upcoming 2020 Census. Granted, the scheme never materialized, but the Dems’ problem is that they came up with the idea in the first place.

It is true average voters are not overly preoccupied with how state Senate and Assembly districts are put together. After all, far too many people can’t even name their state legislators, let alone pay attention to boundaries. That’s not the point. The point, as Republicans probably will argue, is that despite politically controlling the state – something unlikely to change as long as Donald Trump is still president – Democrats tried to tilt the process further in their favor.

Let’s think of football, something people care more about than drawing a legislative map. Think of a team winning 35-7 in the fourth quarter and they’re still throwing the ball in hopes of winning 49-7. Why?

Notwithstanding his southern Jersey roots, Senate President Stephen Sweeney is a fan of not the Eagles, but the Green Bay Packers. He’s old enough to know that the likes of Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr never ran up the score.

Republicans would be wise to shape the debate that way – Democrats are in complete control and they still wanted to stack the deck and run-up the score even more

In what may seem ironic to some, New Jersey already has a pretty good system of redrawing maps after the Census. Unlike the way it is in some states, both parties are equally represented on a commission. And the goal of each party on the commission is to convince the so-called neutral tie-breaking voter to swing their way. Having the final decision made by an impartial member named by the courts encourages each side to be reasonable. The system is not perfect, but it’s not bad either.

The Democrats’ now abandoned plan would have used presidential elections as a benchmark in mapping new district lines – thereby giving Democrats a great advantage because turnout is so much higher in that year. It also would have allowed lawmakers from both parties to help draw the lines of districts in which they would be running.

So, what was the motivation here?  There are a few answers, including settling internal political battles, yes, running up the score and, of course, arrogance.

It was striking at last week’s hearing on the matter that state Sen. Nicholas Scutari of Union County said he was “bewildered” by the opposition. The senator’s bewilderment at a power grab is part of the problem.

Fortunately, the governor and many grassroots groups on the left were not bewildered. They were opposed to the idea. From a broad perspective, it was incredibly encouraging to see so many people interested about a rather arcane bit of politics. And as is always the case, when the light gets too bright, shady deals can unravel.

In a related state issue, there are some in New Jersey – these same grassroots groups on the left, among them – who have to be wondering why marijuana legalization is taking so long. The vote was supposed to be Monday,  but that’s not happening. Earlier deadlines also have been missed.

As we have seen before, there are many Democrats in the Legislature, but not all of them are truly liberal. Recall how reticent even some Democratic state lawmakers were years ago to endorse marriage equality. That was not a stellar moment for a progressive party.

Now, unlike marriage equality, making pot legal is not really a civil rights issue. But it is something backed by a majority of New Jersey residents, according to polls on the issue. It also is something that is happening in many other states in all regions of the country.

Obviously, some people are opposed, but why is that preventing a vote in New Jersey? Instead of working on a deal on pot with the governor’s office, Democratic lawmakers spent far too much time cooking up a redistricting plan that among its other faults would have made only 10 of the state’s 40 legislative districts competitive.

One supposes that’s reasonable in light of political reality, but I always thought a more worthy target would be trying to make all 40 districts competitive.

Then again, I may have smoked too much illegal weed in my youth.

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One response to “Shady Deals Unravel When the Light Gets Too Bright”

  1. Snowflack incorrectly portrays the redistricting battle as one between Democrats and Republicans. Nonsense. The battle lines were Republicans and progressive Democrats — including Governor Murphy — against entrenched machine Democrats. And the measure would have passed were it not for the protests of the progressive Democrats. NJ’s machine Democrats stand for nothing but power.

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