POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

A new legislative redistricting proposal has Trenton roiling

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Sometime after the 2020 census is made public, New Jersey will redraw its 40 legislative districts. It’s called reapportionment, or redistricting.

The way it’s been done is the Democratic and Republican state party chairs each appoint five members to the Apportionment Commission. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoints an 11th member if needed to break a tie.

As first reported by Politico, a new plan being pushed by Democratic leaders would give two appointments to the party chairs, and two each to the Senate president, the Assembly speaker and the two minority leaders. The chief justice selects a tiebreaker during the formation of the committee, rather than at the end.

Democratic Sen. Nick Scutari is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that asks voters to approve the new scheme.

“It really is to try to take party bosses out of the system altogether. I mean, the party chair picking all of the members just doesn’t seem as fair as to spread it around amongst the minority leaders and the presiding officers. It gives everyone a more legitimate chance of being part of the process,” Scutari said.

It’s being seen as a slap against Democratic State Chair John Currie, and by extension at Currie’s ally Gov. Phil Murphy.

Scutari scoffs at that idea.

“I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth, quite frankly,” he said.

“If it’s not broken, why try to fix it?” asked Currie.

It looks like a new episode in the feud between Senate President Steve Sweeney and the governor.

Sweeney didn’t return a call for comment. Currie won’t say what he thinks lies behind it.

“I think you should ask the people that are pushing this. I don’t know. I know it was tried about three years ago and it failed at that point,” Currie said, “so I think you should ask the people that are trying to make the changes what’s the reason.”

Is it a slap?

“I don’t want to speculate what their reasons are, but it’s very, very possible, but I don’t understand it,” Currie continued.

The Governor’s Office also had no comment, but State Republican Chairman Doug Steinhardt did.

“What we’re doing now is changing the rules of the game to respond to an intra-party civil war. You have two factions of the Democratic Party who are fighting to either protect themselves or punish their opponents and the only victims are going to be the New Jersey voters,” Steinhardt said.

That’s part of it, but that’s not the important part for the voters in the state,” Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said. “That’s an internal, political squabble that probably doesn’t make any difference to the voters.”

Bramnick, who would get two picks under the new scheme, says it’s less about Democratic infighting and more about marginalizing the Republicans.

“Who picks the people on this committee is not the important part of this plan. Actually, I’m happy to make a two person selection, but that’s not what’s important here. What’s important here is this is a plan to make this a one party state, and in the weeds, when you look at it, that’s their goal,” Bramnick said.

Bramnick points to the way the bill redefines competitive districts based on federal and gubernatorial election results as the real poison for Republicans.

“All of the competitive districts must favor the Democrats because the federal election returns favor the Democrats. That’s the underlying, in my judgement, approach. It’s hard for the average person, even me, you have to study the legislation to see that’s the goal,” he said.

“They’ve been out of power for a long period of time, so I imagine they should really welcome this as anything other than what they’ve been in, which is the minority for as many years as I’ve been in the Legislature,” Scutari said.

The plan to change the way legislative districts are redrawn is up for a vote in the Senate Budget Committee Monday, along with legalization of marijuana. Scutari is a chief sponsor of each one.