State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-North Haledon), a possible swing vote on the redistricting constitutional amendment being pushed by Democratic leaders in the Legislature, isn’t saying much on how she intends to break when the measure comes up for a vote later this month.
“I’m not going to talk to you about this,” Pou told the New Jersey Globe when asked Monday how she intended to vote on the measure.
Pou faces a political Hobson’s Choice: if she supports the redistricting plan, she risks losing the backing of Democratic State Chairman/Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie when she seeks re-election in three years.; if she opposes it, she could anger Senate President Steve Sweeney.
The amendment would reduce the power of the state party chairs by cutting the number of members selected by the Republican and Democratic party officials from six each to two, giving two picks each to the Senate president, Assembly speaker and minority leaders from both chambers of the legislature.
Right now, Currie has all five appointments to the map-making panel.
Pou is popular among Passaic County Democrats, but her re-election still faces some obstacles. The new mayor of Paterson, Andre Sayegh, ousted her as the city business administrator in July, and may want to see another Democrat representing his city in the State Senate.
It would also impose a fairness formula on at least a quarter of the state’s 40 districts that would require their vote margins fall within 5% of the average of statewide elections over the 10 years preceding a redrawing of district lines.
New Jersey Democrats do well in those elections. They haven’t lost a U.S. Senate race since 1972. Former President George H.W. Bush was the last Republican presidential candidate to carry the state. He did so in 1988.
But while many of the new districts would favor Democrats, drawing those districts would prove difficult.
There’s legal precedent for not splitting municipalities when drawing New Jersey’s legislative districts, and that precedent could lead to drastic changes in predominantly-Democratic North Jersey districts.
“What would happen is we still have 40 districts, but they would have to be cut up radically,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray, who opposes the constitutional amendment. “So, towns that are hanging together now would be split up amongst many different districts.”
It’s not clear what changes, if any the new amendment would cause in Pou’s district, but it’s possible that she or other North Jersey Democrats could find themselves in a drastically-different legislative district after lines are finalized in 2021.
“I think that’s the whole point, is that it really is a big unknown. And a lot of it has to do with what standard does the tie-breaking member use to evaluate communities of interest,” Murray said. “That could force a radical reshaping of North Jersey.”