By Art Gallagher
The stakes are apparently very high as the Legislative Reapportionment Commission works almost around the clock this week to settle on a map that could determine the partisan control of the New Jersey State Legislature for the next 10 years.
The 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans on the commission are working to convince the 11th “Independent” member or the commission, Dr. Alan Rosenthal, PhD of Rutgers to choose their proposed map. Rosenthal is said to be trying to either forge a compromise map or will choose one. Politickernj is reporting that Rosenthal is using the Democratic map as his foundation.
But who are the stakes high for?
Ultimately the stakes are high for all New Jersey residents, as what is decided this week will inevitably impact the quality of all of our lives over the next decade. But are most New Jersey residents even paying attention?
Are the commissioners in New Brunswick working so hard this week for the good of the people of the State, or are they fighting for power, control and the money that comes along with it. Certainly there are commissioners that have pure motives. I’d like to think that they are Republicans. Surely my Democratic readers hope the same of their side.
The Bayshore Tea Party Group has proposed a map that meets all the requirements set out in the Constitution. Turns out that, as a side benefit that proposed map also increases the competitiveness of the districts, and likely would increase minority representation, according to Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray’s analysis of the map.
So why are they working so hard in New Brunswick? Why can’t both sides and Rosenthal just embrace the BTPG’s Constitutional “People’s Map?”
It turns out that there are “principles” not found in the State or U.S Constitutions driving the efforts. Perhaps I should say principals rather than principles. The principle principals are incumbents. The districts belong to them. The office’s they hold are theirs, not the people’s. That’s how it is in practice.
Even Rosenthal buys into incumbent protection. He puts it in noble sounding academic jargon, espousing the “continuity of representation” and the value of crafting a map that is “minimally disruptive.”
Continuous for who? Minimally disruptive to who? Rosenthal’s rhetoric and scholarly writings make it sound as if “continuity of representation” and “minimal disruption” are of value to the electorate. But are they?
It seems to me that most people are oblivious to what legislative districts they live in and relatively few know who their representatives are.
I don’t have empiracle data to back that hunch up, so I called Patrick Murray. He said that he is unaware of recent polling data of residents awareness of their districts or their legislators, but that he shares my hunch.
So I took to the streets. Main Street in Belford actually, to find some data. This is what I found:
Watch the video. Some of it is pretty funny. While not as scientific as one of Murray’s polls, I doubt the results would change with a larger statistical sample and with interviews throughout the state. Decades of miserably low turnout in legislative elections are statistically significant enough to conclude that most people are not paying attention to the legislature, and don’t know who their legislators are.
Maybe a Constitutional, non-gerrymandered map would change that. Maybe people would pay attention and vote if their vote mattered.
Sure, I feel for my friends in the legislature who would be maximally disrupted by the adoption of the BTPG’s map. But the offices they hold and the districts they represent don’t belong to them.
There won’t be real change in Trenton, the city won’t be turned upside down, unless there is a legislative map adopted that does not take into account the residency of incumbents.
The Republicans on the commission should embrace the BTPG’s map and invite Rosenthal to join them.