Bad news out of New Jersey this morning, where a decision has been reached as to how the Garden State's 13 Congressional districts will be reduced to 12, and what they will be comprised of (population-wise and politically alike).
As in Arizona, New Jersey has an "independent" Redistricting Commission, with 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans on each side. The tiebreaker vote (lucky #13, one supposes) is either selected by mutual agreement of the other 12 or is decided by the State Supreme Court Chief Justice, per state law. The 13th vote is supposed to be a non-partisan, open-minded citizen who will break the inevitable impasse between the proposed Democratic and Republican maps.
In this case, both sides agreed to choose former New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer. Unfortunately for Democrats, Farmer has chosen the GOP's proposed map for New Jersey's Congressional districts.
Read below the fold for the details.
There's nothing good about the GOP's proposed map. Since New Jersey had to lose 1 seat in the House due to the 2010 Census, 2 Congressmen had to be thrown together or have a district evaporate. Since the northeast part of New Jersey has a smaller proportion of voters than it did 10 years ago (losing ground to South Jersey), that put Congressmen Steve Rothman and Scott Garrett in the most jeopardy.
Rothman is a liberal-to-moderate Democrat; Garrett is a right-wing Republican neanderthal who was, quite frankly, a Tea Party-er before the term existed in Congress.
Bergen County, which Rothman and Garrett split between them (Rothman has more Democratic parts, Garrett the Republican turf) came into clearer focus this week as the Commission settled into the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick, New Jersey to settle on a map. Or, to be more accurate, for John Farmer to settle on a map.
Democrats produced a map that would have created a "fair fight" district (VPI of +0) between Rothman and Garrett, combining parts of each of their current districts. Republicans proposed a map that was much more beneficial to Garrett, with a VPI of +4 for a Republican. To put that in perspective, that means Barack Obama would have carried the district, but by about half of his statewide margin.
In a normal cycle, this new district will give Garrett a 4-point "leg up" on any opponent, per an anonymous source within the Commission hearings.
Farmer went with the GOP's proposed map. Perhaps the former Attorney General - who served under Republican Christine Todd Whitman - will give an explanation at 10AM today, when the formal vote is held. I'd certainly like to know why a legitimately "fair fight" map was passed over for a GOP gerrymander.
For make no mistake about it: the GOP map greatly helps them preserve the 6 seats they currently hold in New Jersey's delegation. Some other pluses for them are:
Congressman Leonard Lance gets a strongly more Republican district, one that Barack Obama presumably did not win in 2008.
Congressman Chris Smith gets a large part of Republican turf in Monmouth County added to his district, making the seat a safe bet for him and whoever might replace him (if he retires) between now and 2020.
Congressman Jon Runyan (the former NFL player and the newest member of the delegation) saw his seat get a slightly more reddish hue, although it will still be a possibility for Democrats to win.
The other Republicans are Rodney Freylingheusen and Frank LoBiondo. Freylingheusen represents solidly Republican Morris County, and is safely ensconced in his seat for as long as he wants it. LoBiondo represents a very competitive district on paper, but is highly popular and should likewise be able to hold his seat without too much difficulty. Apparently neither district saw any real changes to its political makeup.
There is no map that has been officially unveiled as of 820AM EST. When a map is released I will make sure to post it here and give some more details about each district.
For now - thanks for nothing, John Farmer!
- Stephen Yellin