Source: Politico New Jersey -
Jon Bramnick, the Assembly’s top Republican, knows he’s unlikely to stop Democrats from putting a question on the ballot in November that would overhaul how New Jersey redraws its state legislative boundaries.
So Bramnick and fellow Republicans plan a campaign to convince voters to reject it.
“If you think the Democrats are doing a constitutional amendment to make redistricting more competitive, I hate to use the phrase, but I’ve got a bridge to sell you,” Bramnick said.
Last month, Democrats hastily introduced and began pushing an amendment that would write new standards into the state constitution on how New Jersey redraws its legislative districts. Before that, they had discussed redistricting only privately and rebuffed a reporter’s questions.
Democrats have touted the amendment as a way to ensure competitive districts in which either party has a shot at winning, noting that it would require at least 10 of the state’s 40 legislative districts to be “competitive,” and that neither party have more safe districts than the other.
But the formula would build an advantage for Democrats into the state constitution.
A competitive district would be one in which neither party enjoys more than a 5 percentage point advantage over the other based a hypothetical “average” district. The average district would be measured by partisan election results for governor, president and U.S. Senate over the previous decade.
Democrats enjoy a strong statewide advantage in New Jersey. If the average district were to be drawn today based on the last decade of election results — including votes for third party candidates — Democrats would have a 10-point advantage over Republicans, at 54 percent to 44 percent. The next redistricting process won’t take place until 2021, but there are no signs Democrats’ advantage in the state is waning.
The effort has drawn sharp criticism in the press, including from the left-leaning Star-Ledger editorial board. But it has not drawn much attention from the public, as few have showed up to testify on it during Senate and Assembly committee meetings.
Bramnick also questioned why the Legislature is basing districts on mostly federal, and not legislative election results.
“When the state Legislature starts to do gerrymandering at this level, it is a threat to democracy. When you threaten the basic institution, the response has to be very strong by the minority,” Bramnick said. “New Jersey has gone back and forth with Republican governors and Democratic governors and the people have an opportunity to respond to policies they don’t like. This would end the ability of the public, pretty much, to change the Legislature.”
Bramnick said that under the redistricting plan, the 1st Legislative District — which at the beginning of the new legislative session next week will be entirely held by Democrats — would be considered a safe Republican district.
The proposed amendment has already been approved in committee and is up for a constitutionally-mandated public hearing on Thursday before it’s voted on by the full Senate and Assembly. Bramnick said he will testify against it, but the GOP effort to derail it will intensify in the coming months.
Since no Republicans support the amendment, Democrats will have to pass it with simple majorities before and after the legislative year ends on Jan. 12 in order to get it on the ballot in November.
“There’s a lot of things we have planned, but I’m not going to tip my hand at this point,” Bramnick said.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said it’s fair that the legislative map should reflect the partisan makeup of the state. And, he said, the reason Democrats are using statewide results is they are higher turnout years and best reflect the full makeup of the electorate.
Greenwald said the criteria is based on principles laid out by the late professor Donald Stokes, who served as a tiebreaking redistricting commissioner twice — most recently in 1991, when Republicans won the map. Democrats won the map in 2001 and 2011.
“In the 90s, that formula created a very strong Republican map because the state was leaning Republican,” Greenwald said. “The state started to change… that same formula created a map that went Democratic.”
U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, a Republican from Hunterdon County, has offered to help derail Democrats’ proposal. Lance’s father, the late state Sen. Wesley Lance, played a key role in the 1966 constitutional convention that created the current redistricting process.
Lance called it “one of the worst pieces of public policy legislation as a constitutional amendment over the course of my life.”
“I think it is an attempt by Democrats to have a power grab,” he said.