Does Congressional Seniority Matter? Should It Trump Competitiveness?

In a piece published at Politickernj and on his Real Numbers blog, Monmouth University Polling Director Patrick Murray argues that district competitiveness should be less of a consideration in drawing the new congressional map than he argued it should have been in the state legislative map.

Murray says that no other state uses competitiveness as a criteria for drawing their maps and that New Jersey would be at a disadvantage if it did so.

“If you were expecting me to argue the same for the Congressional redistricting process, though, you would be wrong.  The influence of any state’s delegation is based largely on their influence with the upper echelons of Congressional leadership.  Absolute seniority in itself is not important, but some degree of longevity is necessary for members of our delegation to establish those important relationships.

Since few other states use competitiveness to guide their redistricting process, New Jersey would be put at a disadvantage if it did.  Even if it made a concerted effort, our commission could probably only create 3 to 5 truly competitive districts – out of 435 nationwide.  While that might boost voter turnout in those districts, it would do little to increase the influence of New Jersey as a whole. Influence that we sorely need, considering how little we get back in federal spending for every tax dollar we send to Washington.”

While this argument is consistent with conventional thinking about congress, I’m not sure that it matches up with the current reality in Washington. 

It certainly does not match up with the current reality of the New Jersey congressional delegation, by Murray’s own words in the last sentence.  If we are getting so little back from Washington with our current delegation, most of whom have significant longevity, what good is their seniority doing us?  Would be do much worse, or any worse, with a bunch of freshmen?

In the current congress, the freshmen are running the show, much to the chagrin of the left wing media, the White House and everyone else who thinks congressmen should go to Washington to compromise rather than to do what they promised their constituents they would do during the campaigns.

New Jersey congressmen have an inauspicious history of leadership and influence.  Donald Payne and Frank Pallone are the most senior Democrats in the New Jersey delegation.  Neither have ever been leaders of note in Washington. Neither has an impressive record of getting legislation passed.

Republican Chris Smith is the longest serving member of the New Jersey delegation.  No one can deny that Smith is a leader.  He has had more legislation passed that any other member of congress.  His influence as a human rights advocate and champion of the unborn is global.  However, he is not a congressional leader.  Even with his 30 years on the hill and Republicans back in power, he is not a committee chairman or even a sub-committee chairman.

Robert Menendez has been an exception to New Jersey’s lack of congressional leadership.  He catapulted over Pallone, Payne and many other Democrats throughout the country in establishing himself as a congressional leader, eventually becoming the third highest ranking Democrat in congress before moving up to the Senate.

Worse for New Jersey residents than the lack of influence in congress that our representatives have, is some members’ lack of concern for the will of their constituents.  As Murray said during his appearance on the Real Jersey Guys Radio show on August 2, New Jersey members of congress vote however they want, regardless of how constituents feel about an issue, because gerrymandering has made their jobs so safe.

This is clearly the case in Monmouth County, the majority of which is divided between Frank Pallone’s 6th district and Rush Holt’s 12th.  Murray accurately portrays the 6th and 12th as among the most gerrymandered districts.  As a result of how these districts have been drawn in the past, much of Monmouth County is essentially disenfranchised from congressional representation.  One could easily make an argument that the suburban areas of Pallone and Holt’s districts do not have a congressman, while the urban areas have two.

Murray and I agree that congressmen need incentive to serve and represent their constituents.  There is no incentive like competition.   The congressional redistricting commission should make competiveness a prime consideration in drawing the new map.  Without competition, seniority is not all that is cracked up to be, as New Jersey’s congressional delegation has clearly demonstrated.

Posted: September 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Congressional Redistricting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

2 Comments on “Does Congressional Seniority Matter? Should It Trump Competitiveness?”

  1. Rick Ambrosia said at 12:25 pm on September 22nd, 2011:

    “much of Monmouth County is essentially disenfranchised from congressional representation”…

    Don’t you mean to change that ridiculous line to read “Republicans feel disenfranchised”…not “much of Monmouth County”? I would bet the majority of dems in these districts are feeling just fine. I live in Smith’s district…should I start complaining about being disenfranchised too? (Well, no, not really since I like Chris Smith) Also, aren’t they elected to vote their conscience on a given issue? Isn’t that the reason you send someone to congress, because you trust them enough to vote their conscience? C’mon Art…this is just a plea to have more districts redrawn in an attempt to have more republican representation when clearly, this is a very, very blue state. Maybe you should think about moving to south Jersey where you might feel more comfortable and not so “disenfranchised”. Ton’s of good ‘ol republican boys down there!

  2. Politicalpony said at 8:04 am on September 23rd, 2011:

    So the “Voter Nullification Process” begins. This committee process is a scam and the public meetings are meaningless when all they do is allow the citizen to talk till they are blue in the face. No one on this committee is going to pay attention to the citizen request. At least not what is demanded by the citizen when it comes to constitutionality. Wisniewski should have been more concerned with creating bad legislation over the past ten years causing the exiting migration of the population and therefore creating the loss of a congressional seat. With all due respect for Professor Patrick Murry, We should not be worried about seniority in congress. All 12 votes will still count. We must have competitive races or we will never be rid of the bad congressional legislatures. We will never be able to reset the country as a Republic.