New NJ legislative map does not represent people of color, advocates say


Despite all the progress the New Jersey redistricting commission has made in redrawing the state’s legislative map this month, the final product ‘overrepresents white people’ and ‘actively diminishes the voices of communities of color,’ a group says. of defenders.

The map released last week divides the state into 40 legislative districts – 17 with a population in which the majority of residents are people of color and 23 in which the majority of residents are white.

That’s up from the 15 majority-minority districts on New Jersey’s current legislative map.

But Fair Districts New Jersey, a nonpartisan coalition seeking to reform the state’s redistricting process, says that falls short of the 20 districts the group pressed the commission to adopt.

The organization said that while the Garden State is made up of nearly 50% people of color at the 2020 U.S. Census, the map does not fully account for the growth of Latino, Black and Asian communities during the last decade.

“Obviously, a map that doesn’t accurately reflect our state’s population growth doesn’t really serve communities of color,” Fair Districts said in a statement.

CONTINUED: NJ’s veteran Democrats could be launched under the new legislative map that was just approved in a bipartisan deal

Every 10 years, a bipartisan commission redraws the lines for the 40 districts representing the state’s 565 municipalities in the state legislature, the Trenton body that makes state laws and votes on its budget. Usually a tiebreaker is needed to choose one game’s card over the other.

But for the first time ever, the commission voted 7-2 to pass a bipartisan compromise last week. The new map will come into effect for next year’s elections, when the 120 seats in the Legislative Assembly will once again be up for grabs.

Al Barlas, chairman of the Republican delegation on the commission, hailed the map as one “that everyone could be proud of”. LeRoy Jones, chair of the Democratic delegation, called it “a fair and representative legislative map of all of New Jersey and the people it serves.”

Supporters praised the commission for reaching a bipartisan agreement, as well as for releasing early versions of possible maps and holding public hearings where they repeatedly pushed to make the map more representative of the state’s diversity.

Still, Matthew Duffy, special counsel for redistricting at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said the bigger problem is that redistricting is “designed to be a political process” in the first place.

“Bipartisan is not non-partisan,” Duffy said. “What the parties want is not necessarily good for the people of New Jersey. … I think we’d like to see a process that’s more about the people who live here and not the parties.

Barlas told NJ Advance Media that a big goal of the commission is to recognize and embrace the state’s diversity, and members met with advocates to address their concerns. He also pointed out how this map includes two more majority-minority districts than the current map.

“Would we have liked more? Of course,” Barlas said. “But 17 is a big number. It is an improvement over where we are today.

“There is a delicate balancing act in drawing these lines,” he added.

The new map includes a majority black district (the 28th in Essex County) and two majority Hispanic districts (the 33rd in Hudson County and the 35th in North Jersey).

Meanwhile, there is one black-influenced district (North Jersey’s 34th) and three Hispanic-influenced districts (Union County’s 20th, Essex County’s 29th, and North Jersey’s 36th). ). These are constituencies in which an electoral bloc is large enough to influence an election.

But the Fair Districts coalition said it’s still disproportionate because black communities make up more than 15% of New Jersey’s population and Latino communities make up more than 20% of the state.

Additionally, the group said, the Asian community is the fastest growing demographic in the state, growing 44% over the past decade, but the map does not include any Asian plurality districts. .

Hudson County’s 32nd District will now have approximately 30% Asian Americans.

The two additional districts that will change from a majority of white residents to a majority of minority residents under the new map are South Jersey’s 5th and North Jersey’s 27th.

The commission also brought together a number of diverse communities previously divided into a single district:

  • Camden and Pennsauken in Camden County.
  • Bridgeton, Vineland, Millville and Fairfield in Cumberland County.
  • Dover, Mine Hill, Wharton and Morristown in Morris County.

This, Fair Districts noted, was what they were looking for.

But the coalition said a number of diverse communities remain divided: West Windsor and Plainsboro; Parsipanny, Millburn and Livingston; Clifton and Passaic; Wayne and Pompton lakes; and West Milford, Mahwah and Ringwood, where the Ramapough-Lenape Tribe is based.

“They’re small but they’re very strong communities of interest,” Duffy said.

Redistricting commission members also see improvement going forward, with at least three districts – 2nd in Atlantic County, 14th in Central Jersey and 38th in North Jersey – likely becoming districts in minority majority when the next map is drawn in a decade.

As for the racial makeup of the legislators themselves? Currently, the legislature is made up of a majority of white men, although there have been a number of firsts among new members sworn in last month.

Democratic Assembly Members Sadaf Jaffer, Shama Haider and Ellen Park are the first Asian American women to hold seats in the Legislative Assembly. Haider and Jaffer are also the first two Muslim lawmakers in the state.

Don Guardian, a former Atlantic City mayor who will now represent South Jersey’s 2nd District in the Assembly, is the first openly gay Republican elected to the Legislative Assembly and the state’s first openly gay lawmaker in more than three years.

Meanwhile, Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, the new Senate Majority Leader, is the first woman of color to hold that office in state history and the highest-ranked Latina in US history. ‘Legislative Assembly.

The new map could add a little more diversity to the ranks of the Legislative Assembly. It was redesigned so that at least four powerful Democratic members of the state Senate would be split into two districts: Richard Codey and Nia Gill in the reshaped 27th, and Nicholas Sacco and Brian Stack in the reshaped 33rd.

Sacco announced his retirement on Thursday, avoiding what could have been a nasty Democratic primary between him and Stack.

Codey, a former governor and Senate president, and Gill — who have been longtime allies — are both expected to run for re-election. Whoever loses their Democratic primary will be fired from the Legislative Assembly.

Democrats, however, are unlikely to lose Senate seats because of the decision. They will simply have two new senators in place of Sacco and the one who loses a Codey-Gill primary. Under the new configuration, Essex County’s 34th District (which Gill currently represents) and Hudson County’s 32nd District (which Sacco currently represents) will now have open Senate seats that favor Democrats.

Congresswoman Britnee Timberlake, D-Essex, who is black, is considered the favorite to run for the Senate in the 34th. If she wins and Gill, who is black, defeats Codey and then wins the general election, that would put one more black woman in the Senate. If she wins and Codey, who is white, defeats Gill and then wins the general election, there would be the same number of black women in the chamber.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, has already announced he will be running for the Senate in the 32nd, which includes Hoboken and parts of Jersey City. Mukherji could become only the second Asian American member of the upper house of the Legislative Assembly.

New Jersey’s New Legislative Map.

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Brent Johnson can be attached to bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on @johnsb01.

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