By David Cruz
It wasn’t a classic all-nighter but lawmakers blew through the dinner hour in a mad dash to get through more than a hundred bills and not one, two or three, but four total constitutional amendments pushed by the Democratically-controlled houses. Covering issues as diverse as gaming expansion in the north and new redistricting rules, the measures were as dense as they were significant, leaving some Republicans to rail against the majority for putting politics above policy.
“Four constitutional amendments that could change the entire shape of the state of New Jersey and we didn’t even get copies of some of those potential amendments until late Tuesday night,” asked an exasperated Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi. “It’s outrageous.”
For the record, here’s what voters will likely be asked to approve in November:
• Should Casino gambling be expanded to North Jersey.
• Should the governor be required to make quarterly payments to the state pension fund.
• Should all the money from the state’s gas and petroleum products tax go to the Transportation Trust Fund.
• Should the commission makeup and rules governing legislative apportionment be changed.
That final item, which would expand the reapportionment commission – they draw the legislative districts – has Republicans fuming. Democrats say they want to use the results of future state, and federal elections to reapportion in order to increase the number of competitive districts, but opposition lawmakers were, let’s just say, skeptical.
“In the last couple of elections we all saw that the Democrat proposed maps in the last redistricting rounds really helped the Democrats,” Schepisi added. “Why do the sponsors believe that there’s something wrong with the current process that they need to rectify it with this amendment?”
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said the Democrats were trying to engineer a one-party state. “Why do you think the Democrats want to raise redistriciting; is it because they want to make it more fair, or do they want to make this a perpetual one-party state,” he asked rhetorically. “Now I can tell you common sense will tell you that they’re not changing the constitution to help the Republicans out.”
“Who knows who it’s going to favor,” countered Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman John McKeon. “In one of the elections that we know is going to count towards that number governor Christie won 62 to 38. If you can predict what’s gonna happen in the next six elections going forward, you’re all better than I am.”
As governor Christie is fond of saying, elections have consequences, and Democrats were not apologizing for running roughshod over the minority. Still, it wasn’t all hugs and handshakes behind the scenes. Allies of Senate president Steve Sweeney were grumbling about his failure to post the so-called Democracy ACT, either as an override or as a constitutional amendment. Despite his promise over the summer to “get it done one way or another.”
“Voting is a right that all citizens embrace and democracy is something that all of our legislators have espoused to protect and support and this is the time when the rubber meets the road,” said NJ Working Families Executive Director Analilia Mejia. “We’re asking every legislator – Republican and Democrat alike – to votes yes, and put it on the ballot.”
It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this time around. Powerful Democrats have asked for the measure to give voting rights to people in prison, which has essentially killed it. There’s too much to hash out said one Democrat and we just don’t have the time. That’s the way democracy goes when you’re up against the clock.