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Coughlin won’t say if he backs redistricting amendment

Assembly will consider the measure on Dec. 17

By Nikita Biryukov, November 29 2018 1:09 pm

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin would not say whether he supported a constitutional amendment pushed by Democrats in Trenton.

“I think the ultimate decider of this is going to be the people of New Jersey. what we’re talking about is having a public question in 2019,” Coughlin said. “So, I trust the people of New Jersey to make the right decision and we’ll see what they think about it.”

The amendment would change who nominates members of the state’s redistricting commission. At present, the Republican and Democratic state chairs each appoint representatives to half of the 12-member board’s seats. The amendment would cut that number from six to two, giving two picks each to the Assembly Speaker, Senate President and minority leaders in both chambers.

The amendment would also require the commission to consider party performance in past statewide elections, including ones for governor, president and U.S. Senate, when drawing district lines.

The measure’s language was amended on Monday to require at least a quarter of the state’s 40 legislative districts to have vote margins within 5% of the average of statewide elections over the preceding 10 years.

The latter portion of the measure has been roundly criticized by the state’s Republicans, good-government groups and even liberal groups as gerrymandering, and it doesn’t seem like the amendment’s opponents are buying Democrats’ line about letting voters decide.

“That’s a disingenuous response and somewhat insulting to voters that you’ve actually given them a choice by saying ‘the only thing you can take is the most horrible medicine in the world. Do you want it or not?’” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray, who said he opposes writing a fairness formula into the state’s constitution.

Though the Senate held a public hearing on the amendment earlier this week, they may have to hold another to avoid procedural legal challenges spurred by their changing the amendment’s language even as the hearing was held. They also advanced the amendment, but may have to do so again with an identical copy for the same reasons.

The Assembly has yet to take any action on the amendment, but Coughlin said his chamber will consider the resolution on Dec. 17. He’s planning a public hearing before then, but a date for that hearing is still in the works.

Coughlin made his comments at an unrelated press conference Thursday.

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