Because New Jersey, Virginia, and Mississippi all have 2011 legislative elections, they will soon receive the new block data from the US Census Bureau, and be the first to do so. Once revealed, the people charged with drawing the political maps can begin implementing their tasks.
New Jersey draws its districts by special commission. Five Democrats and five Republicans are chosen by various individuals and entities to serve. If the ten members deadlock, the State Supreme Court Chief Justice is charged with appointing a tie-breaking individual. Twenty years ago, the last time reapportionment reduced the Garden State’s congressional delegation (in 2012, the state will drop from 13 to 12 seats), the commission drew six Democratic districts, six Republican seats, and paired a Democrat and a Republican into a marginal district in the middle of the state. It’s possible a similar blueprint could be utilized again.
The Hill Newspaper ran a story yesterday suggesting that Reps. Jon Runyan (R-NJ-3) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ-7) may be the members on the cutting block because they have the least seniority in the delegation. Though nothing will be certain until the actual census block data is available, eliminating the Runyan district, in particular, may be easier said than done.
Redistricting is much different from normal politics, because member seniority and committee assignments matter far less than if a particular district is in a corner of the state or center, and whether or not its region is growing or contracting. Based upon the mid-decade Census reports, it appears that the area closer to New York is the part of New Jersey declining in population, not the southern portion of the state. Thus, a district like Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s 11th, bounded on all sides by other districts, and Rep. Scott Garrett’s boomerang-shaped 5th district at the top of the state might be tempting candidates for pairing with a neighboring member. Among Democrats, Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) and Frank Pallone’s (D-NJ-6) might be easier to collapse into a district with a Republican incumbent.
Looking at the southern portion of the state, assuming inhabitant numbers have kept pace, Reps. Rob Andrews (D-NJ-1) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-2) appear to be in the best position. Andrews represents the Democratic stronghold of Camden, which is bordered on the west by Pennsylvania. This means the only choices in moving this district are to expand north, south, or east. Because the Camden-based district is already compact and contains a definable community of interest, it would be difficult to eliminate this particular seat. LoBiondo’s district borders the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Maryland to its south. To the west is the Andrews seat, so the only real option is to move District 2 north. This would take him into Runyan’s 3rd district, which is an east to west district that borders both Pennsylvania and the Atlantic Ocean. Rep. Chris Smith’s 4th district is to the north, thus completing NJ’s central-south sector. It is very likely that enough population will still exist to feed all four seats, thus keeping them all.
Though New Jersey is not a Voting Rights State, look for the commission to keep in tact Rep. Chris Smith’s (D-NJ-10) African American-based seat in the Newark metropolitan area. Like all New Jersey districts, the 10th will have to gain population. The nearby city of Paterson, which is more than 80% minority, might make sense to include in a new 10th. This would cause Pascrell’s 8th district to be radically redrawn, thus making it a collapse candidate.
It’s already clear that the northern seats will have to move south and the southern seats will come north. Thus, the members in the middle (Districts 6 (Pallone), 7 (Lance), 8 (Pascrell), and 12 (Holt) may have the highest risk of being paired.
Many configurations are possible and a potential radical re-draw can literally do almost anything, but the population drag suggests that geography and demographics will be more of a determining factor than seniority or stature within the House. Commissions and courts tend to be more sensitive to communities of interest and demographics than legislatures, but it is always difficult to tell what will eventually happen at the beginning of the process. Welcome to the world of congressional redistricting.