I’m getting ready to drive 250 miles for Christmas, so this lacks the in-depth number crunching you’ve come to know and love me for. But here are my initial thoughts about New Jersey’s Congressional redistricting commission decision.
First, let’s drop the pretense that districts 5 and 9 were combined. They weren’t.
John Farmer said that he went into this process believing that the delegation should be split 6-6 and that the most likely candidates for merger were the Democratic 8th (Pascrell) and 9th(Rothman). He said that former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts convinced him that the voters – or at least those in north Jersey – should decide whether the state’s delegation should be 7-5 or 6-6. To do this would mean combining districts 5 and 9.
So, then why did Farmer vote for a map that combined 8 and 9? Let’s look at the numbers for the new District 9 (which is supposed to be the old District 8). Of the total population of 732,658 in the new district, 54% are currently represented by Rothman and 43% are represented by Pascrell. (Another 3% are represented by Scot Garret in the 5th).
Remember – this is supposed to be Pascrell’s district, but less than half of his current constituents live in “his” new district. [This would have given Alan “Continuity of Representation” Rosenthal conniptions.]
In the new 5th – which is supposed to be the “combined” district – 80% of then population is currently represented by Garrett and just 20% is represented by Rothman! Yes, you read that right. Four-fifths of this so-called “fair fight” district is from the current Republican district.
So how did Farmer justify calling the new 5th the combine district rather than the new 9th? Umm, because Rothman’s current hometown was part of the move to the 5th – even though the VAST majority of Rothman’s constituents are now in “Pascrell’s district.”
Another fallacy espoused by Farmer is that the new 3rd is now a competitive district. Umm, how do you figure that one? I don’t even need to run the numbers to know that taking out Democratic stronghold Cherry Hill and replacing it with the Republican town of Brick makes this already Republican-leaning district less competitive, rather than more. Sure, they threw in a few more Delaware River towns, but the claim that this district is competitive is patently false. I’m left wondering if Farmer had his own stats person to validate the Republican’s numbers, or if he simply took the GOP claim at face value.
Now, let me make this perfectly clear – I am not criticizing John Farmer’s decision to side with the GOP. I’ve seen the Democrats’ map. It looks eerily similar to the Republican one.
The 7th and 12th districts in both maps are much more compact than the current configurations, although both leave the 6th – shown by independent analysis to be one of the least compact districts in the country – as a bizarre coastal snake. Both maps added Brick to the 3rd, although the Dems made it less compact in order to keep it competitive.
Albio Sires district underwent drastic changes in geography in both maps, with both side lopping off the non-contiguous Middlesex County portion of the current 13th and moving it further into Hudson. Both maps also included the little “Plainfield hook” on the northern end of district 12. [By the way, Rush Holt got a nice gift in this map – a safe and relatively compact district.]
Both maps fetishly preserved Chris Smith’s hometown of Hamilton (i.e. the place where he rents an apartment) Robbinsville (where he owns a dwelling - according to a staffer who emailed me after seeing this column) in the 4th, but the Republicans got closer to making this into the costal district that it should be.
The Democrats District 5 is only slightly better than the GOP’s from a community of interest standpoint, but they fell into the unfortunate east-west vertical map drawing on districts 11 and 7 that has epitomized the bad maps of the past.
So, I really have little criticism of Farmer’s eventual choice. It certainly is not an ideal map, and I’m not ready to say that is a good map. But it certainly is a better map than the one we have now, and perhaps slightly better than the one submitted by the Democrats, where they perhaps overreached by creating more competitive districts in both the 5th and the 3rd.
My one complaint is that John Farmer should be honest about the map. He said at the opening of today’s vote that his intention at the outset of this process was to look for a map that gave the state delegation a 6-6 split and combined the two northeastern Democratic districts. That’s exactly what he voted for and he should be willing to admit it.
P.S. I'm not sure whether I can claim a "win" for predicting Farmer's preference here. I said a fair fight 5 v. 9 would appeal to him. That's what he claimed we got, so I would be right by that standard, but that's not what the numbers say we got.