NJ Dems, good-government groups spar over how to redraw political map

Ian Bush
December 13, 2018 - 4:00 am
Gov. Phil Murphy

Kevin R. Wexler/NorthJersey.com via USA Today Images


NEW JERSEY (KYW Newsradio) — A new map will be in store for New Jersey's legislative districts in a few years, but the fight over how to draw the lines has already begun.

The plan by top Democrats, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, is the subject of two hearings Thursday in Trenton, and the proposal is coming under plenty of friendly fire.

"I think we collectively want to go one way and I think this is going the other way and I don't like that," said Gov. Phil Murphy.

He says the measure fails a number of his “tests.”

“Opening up democracy, transparency, good processes in government, and getting to the right solutions,” he said.

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The plan would displace the power enjoyed by state party chairmen, who appoint all but one member of the panel that redraws legislative districts. Instead, majority and minority leaders in the state Senate and assembly would get the most picks on an expanded, 13-member commission.

The proposal would have to make at least 10 of the 40 districts "competitive" based on a decade of party performance in elections — federal and governor races among them.

Supporters say that would make for an accurate picture of voters in New Jersey. But Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray says the word "competitive" in the proposed ballot question would be misleading, as it means "a built-in Democratic advantage" of five to ten percentage points. And it would lock future redistricting commissions into what Murray calls a "scheme."

“Part of what the spirit of the legislation should be is to empower communities over parties, and the reverse is true about this legislation, said Ryan Haygood, who heads the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “This really is a moment for New Jersey to build an inclusive democracy, part of which includes fair redistricting, and we think this measure falls far short of that standard.”