Thursday, July 14, 2011

Congressional Redistricting By The Numbers

New Jersey's Congressional redistricting effort presents the highest of stakes for one U.S. Representative this year as the state is slated to lose one member of the delegation, dropping the representation to 12.

Speculation is rampant over which congressman is in the most danger of losing his seat and who might be safe when the game of musical chairs stops in January.  The current makeup is seven Democrats and six Republicans so the chances of an agreement that all sides can live with are scarce, sources tell PolickerNJ.

The commission has not yet met as a whole and the deadline for the new maop is still six months away, but interviews with sources on both sides of the aisle as well as census numbers released earlier this year hold clues as to how each side may proceed once the 13th member of the commission is named.  The tie-breaking member could be named as early as Friday but will more likely be chosen by the Supreme Court next month.

Every district in the state needs to add residents to conform to the ideal population size of 732,658.  Since the districts were drawn 10 years ago, District 4, which has been represented by Republican U.S. Rep Chris Smith for more than two decades, has grown the most, followed by District 12, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12).  Both cover the central portion of the state.

The process promises to be parochial as members will no doubt lobby to save their own seats while also trying to boost their respective parties in Washington, D.C.

Republicans familiar with the thinking of the GOP team say their focus will likely be on the Northeastern portion of the state, where Democratic U.S. Reps. Albio Sires, (D-13), Donald Payne, (D-10), Steve Rothman, (D-9), and Bill Pascrell (D-8) control portions of Essex, Passaic, Hudson, Bergen and Union counties.

GOP sources say the cluster of four districts presents the most obvious place to consolidate.  District 13 needs to add 47,000 residents without upsetting the demographic mix, while District 10 needs an additional 98,000 residents, roughly half of them black.  One way to do that, Republican sources say, is to raid Districts 8 and 9.  But cherry-picking those districts, which each need roughly 72,000 additional residents to bring them up to the ideal size of 732,658, would create havoc elsewhere, Republican sources say, leaving a combination of the two the most favorable outcome for the GOP.

The argument is strengthened, they say, by census data that show that area of the state has not grown as fast as portions farther south.  Payne's District has lost residents since it was drawn, while Districts 8 and 9 have grown more slowly than any of the remaining 10 districts.  Another GOP school of thought has Republicans targeting U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-6), who as one source said, "hasn't made any friends in the delegation."

Democrats have a different take, according to two sources connected tothe Congressional delegation.  One Democratic map, sources say, would combine Districts 5 and 11 and pit U.S. reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, (R-11), and Schoot Garrett, (R-5), in a Republican primary.  The thinking goes that New Jersey is a blue state so the delegation should reflect a Democratic majority.  Combining those districts would allow Districts 8 and 9 to move north into Bergen County and potentially south into Union to gain the needed population.

One Democratic source said Democrats could focus on any of the three Western New Jersey districts, including some combination that includes the 7th, represented by Republican Leonard Lance.

But all sources say a compromise between the two sides could feature a combination of the 12th and the 7th Districts, which would pit Holt against Lance.  Lance is serving only his second term in the seat and is the second most junior member of the delegation behind freshman Rep. Jon Runyan.

What's more, Lance's hometown of Clinton Township abuts the 12th District, making the map less destructive to the remaining 11 districts.  Democrats say that district should remain one that favors Holt in order to reflect the state's blue leanings.

A second so-called compromise map that has been discussed is one that would pit Pascrell and Frelinghuysen in a combined district, which Democrats say should be on that votes about 55 percent Democratic, again to reflect the state's leftward tilt.

But any speculation at this stage of the game is just that, warned one attorney connected tothe Democratic team, and does not reflect the thinking of the commission.

Bill Castner, who is serving as a counsel to the Democratic team, cautioned that it's still too early in the process to make any predictions.  The commission, he said, has not even looked at any maps to date.

"It's not very wise to forecast map strategy or outcomes at this stage, primarily because the independent member of the Commission has yet to be named, hearings have not been held, and the deadline is not until mid-January," he said.  "It's phrenology at this point.  One lession, though, from state redistricting, is that it is very very risky for either side to overreach."

The members of the commission from both sides of the aisle must vote on a 13th member by Friday.  If they cannot agree, the names of the two highest vote getters will be forwarded to the state Supreme Court, which has until Aug. 10 to choose between the two.

By Darryl R. Isherwood

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