Bridget Callahan Harrison brought an interesting perspective to Monday’s meeting of the state’s Congressional Redistricting Commission – that of a losing candidate.
Harrison wasn’t shy about acknowledging her defeat in the 2020 Democratic primary in CD-2 to Amy Kennedy. But her appearance at the commission’s public meeting at Rowan University had nothing to do with sour grapes.
She asked the commission to create competitive districts. And she had a special request for John Wallace, the former state Supreme Court Justice and 11th member of a commission composed of five Republicans and five Democrats.
That makes Wallace the tie-breaker, but that’s not what Harrison wants. She urged Wallace to be a true “independent” member and encourage representatives of both parties to submit maps that show competitive districts.
Voters obviously benefit when districts are balanced. As Harrison noted, competitive districts push House members to the middle as opposed to kowtowing “to the demands of party leaders in Washington D.C.” Spirited elections also tend to increase turnout and bring more people into the election process.
This common sense principle occasionally runs into the traditional belief that the commission’s job – sometimes left unsaid – is to protect incumbents. When this is talked about, the catch phrase is maintaining “continuity of representation.” This tradition tends to be maintained because commission members regardless of party are part of the political system.
There’s also a practical problem – the parties are not even.
As we know, there are almost 1.1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans. So looking just at arithmetic, it’s pretty hard to create all that many districts in which registered Dems and Republicans are roughly the same.
Still, as the commission does its work it will be instructive to watch what happens to two districts that are competitive – the aforementioned CD-2 in south Jersey (incumbent Jeff Van Drew) and CD-7 in central Jersey (incumbent Tom Malinowski).
Will Democrats try to make CD-2 friendlier to their party?
And will they be willing to allow CD-7 to lean Republican if that helps bolster the Dems in CD-11, where Mikie Sherrill is the incumbent?
Remember that Sherrill is seen as a rising star and Malinowski is being looked at by the House ethics committee.
As for Republicans, emboldened by their success two weeks ago, will they try to make CD-5 (incumbent Josh Gottheimer) a tad more Republican?
All this maneuvering, of course, can make for competitive districts – even if the impetus is political advantage.
There weren’t many speakers at Monday’s hearing.
Another speaker from Somerset County and CD-7 urged the commission not to get carried away.
“The commission should not make any radical changes to the map,” he said.
Ah, a vote for the status quo.