Gov. Christie Not Playing Big Role in Redistricting [AUDIO]
The latest negotiations on how to shrink New Jersey's 13 congressional districts into 12 get under way Monday.
Population shifts recorded in the 2010 Census will cause the state to lose one of its representatives before next year's election. New Jersey is currently represented by 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans in Congress.
"By law the new map must in place by January 17," says John Farmer, dean of Rutgers Law School and the tie-breaking 13th member of Congressional Redistricting Committee. "Obviously, we'd like to get it done before that, but the reality is that New Jersey is losing a seat in congress so it's likely to be a protracted negotiation before any kind of a map is adopted."
The outcome will push two incumbent congressmen into one newly drawn district, where they will compete head-to-head in the 2012 election. The big question is; which two will be forced to battle one another?
Earlier this year, Governor Chris Christie played a major role in trying to get a new legislative map that favored his fellow Republicans. His influence didn't help his party. Republicans failed to gain a seat in the State Senate and they lost a seat in the Assembly.
Asked about his involvement in the congressional redistricting process and the prospects for a better result for the GOP, Christie said, "Well, I couldn't get a worse results than I got the first time. I guess that's a, you know, optimistic note…..To this point my only involvement has been being briefed on progress, but I have not been involved in any meetings or any strategy sessions or those types of things. It's just been getting briefed on the progress that they're making. I don't preclude my involvement in it if I think it can be helpful. The same way I tried to be helpful, unsuccessfully the last time on legislative redistricting."
Farmer is hoping the re-drawn map is completed before Christmas. He says, "The first public hearing will be the 22nd of this month in South Jersey, probably in Camden at Rutgers, but we haven't finalized that location yet and we're still working on the other two public hearing dates."
Some experts believe the process would be made much easier if a current representative would simply retire because that would clear the field. Farmer doesn't agree. He explains, "The optimum outcome is a map that is fair and that balances all the different interests in New Jersey so simply one person deciding not to run again doesn't solve the problem…..I think it's unfortunate that we're losing a seat in congress and obviously that lessens our influence as a state so this map has to be drawn very carefully."
After each census the legislative lines are redrawn to reflect population changes. Monmouth University poll director Patrick Murray says, "Basically all the members of Congress in the central and southern part of the state are probably going to be living in areas where they're going to be able to hold onto their seat." That means the seat is likely to be lost in the heavily Republican, but under-populated northwestern portion of the state.
Farmer insists, "Nothing has been pre-determined."
"You never want to lose a seat. It's always diluting your power a little bit, your ability to get committee assignments across different types of issues when you have fewer seats," says Murray, "The real issue here is there's going to be a lot of voters who will not know their member of Congress at all come the 2012 election."
Six Democrats and six Republicans will try to hammer out a map upon which both sides can agree. "That is extremely unlikely to happen," says Murray. "It's never happened before."
It traditionally comes down to being able to read the tie-breaking member and know what that person is interested in. Commission members then try to present their case in way they feel the tie-breaker would want.