By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto had already voted when we met him at his polling place in Secaucus. He was as upbeat about the election as the weather was balmy.
“I think Democrats are going to have a good day. I feel confident that we’re going to keep our majority, but we’re going to grow our majority. I think in districts like the first and the second we’re able to pick up those seats, and I think 11 is in play, also. They’re working hard. Even in district 16 they’re working hard,” Prieto said.
Democrats enjoy a 47 to 31 majority in the lower house and Prieto is their party leader. Two seats are vacant. Of the 40 districts in the state, each sending two members to the Assembly, only two are really in play, districts 1 and 2 that are in deep South Jersey along the shore.
District 38 in Bergen County was in play until a Republican challenger’s racist and homophobic writings were discovered.
District 11 in Monmouth County holds the possibility of a late Democratic upset.
The Republican party leader, Jon Bramnick, seemed resigned to whatever the outcome. What’s on his mind is all the outside money from Democratic superPACs, much of it purchasing negative ads against his members.
“I just want the public to understand why they’re getting these negative ads. It’s because you’ve got millions of dollars from public unions who don’t want any changes. And if you don’t have changes, you’re not going to have lower taxes in this state. That’s what I want to make sure people know about,” Bramnick said.
The map itself is responsible for so few competitive races.
Every 10 years the legislative map gets redrawn. Five Democrats, five Republicans and a tie-breaker appointed by the Chief Justice make up the Reapportionment Commission. In 2011, the late Rutgers professor Alan Rosenthal was the tie-breaker, and he chose a Democratic map over a Republican one. Republicans have been complaining ever since.
“This is an unfair map, and the fact that you’re seeing not a lot of competitive races is because the map is unfair,” Governor Christie previously said.
Christie yesterday described a conversation he had with Alan Rosenthal at the time of the map’s adoption:
“I said to him, ‘Alan, I can win 60 percent of the vote in 2013 and we won’t change one seat.’ And he said to me, ‘Governor, if you win 60 percent of the vote you’ll win the Legislature,’ and he said, ‘I’ll buy you dinner if you don’t.’ Unfortunately, tragically, Alan passed away before I got to collect on my dinner.”
Christie did get 60 percent in 2013 and Republicans didn’t pick up one seat.
Noncompetitive elections produce low voter turnout.
“If you look at TV, everybody’s looking at the presidential a year from now, so nobody knows the lonely Assembly is at the top of the ticket,” Prieto said.
No one knows except in the couple of districts barraged by Democratic money.
“Union money, millions of it in certain districts. 18 times in district 1, 18 times what we’re spending. $3 to 4 million in district 1 on television versus $200,000. That’s because there’s unlimited union money,” Bramnick said.
Voters have six more years under the current map.