Why progressive groups are opposing a Democratic plan to redraw legislative districts

Critics stood on the steps of Newark City Hall and said residents should consider the Democratic proposal to redraw legislative districts a major red flag. The same activists who helped lead the state to a blue wave of midterm victories, are the very voices speaking out.

Legislative maps are redrawn every 10 years in New Jersey, and if enacted, an idea pushed by both Democratic leaders would all but enshrine their power in Trenton.

“Gerrymandering is cheating, so it doesn’t matter if your own team is doing it or if your opponents are doing it,” said Analilia Mejia, director of New Jersey Working Families Alliance.

Lawmakers are swiftly moving a constitutional amendment through Trenton that would give them more power in the commission redrawing the maps, using election results from previous decades, which heavily favors the Democratic Party, in deciding district boundaries.

“It mandates the inclusion of legislators for the first time since 1971″ said Mejia. “That’s problematic because you have legislators who are now going to be tasked with drawing their own districts, and essentially the fox is guarding the hen house.”

“If you have a legislator on that committee, their first and primary mission is to give themselves a safe district,” said Barry Brendel, chair of Our Revolution New Jersey.

Currently, each state party chair appoints five members to the Apportionment Commission, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court choosing an 11th if a tie breaker is needed. The new plan calls for a 13-member commission. The party chairs get two picks, and legislative leaders from both parties appoint eight others. The chief justice selects the 13th at the beginning of the process.

Activists worry that will empower legislative leaders to punish other lawmakers if they buck the party on key votes, instead prefer a commission made up of citizens.

Proponents of this method argue this makes more people part of the process and takes some of the power away from the party bosses — spreading the wealth among the minority leaders and other leading lawmakers.

“Experts across the country and New Jersey are unified in opposition. In fact, there is no group in New Jersey outside the Legislature that actually supports this proposal,” Mejia said.

“South Jersey Women for Progressive Change pledges to use our large and effective social media reach, our impassioned volunteer network, our coalition across New Jersey that we’ve built on the backs of passionate volunteers, our extensive email list and all the energy of 8,000 angry women to fight this,” said Sue Altman, South Jersey Women for Progressive Change board member.

A public hearing will likely be held next week. Lawmakers have until Dec. 17 to pass the measure so it can go for a second, and final vote, next year.