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Ronald L. Rice. (Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Rice backing redistricting amendment

Says he wants legislators on the map-making panel

By Nikita Biryukov, December 03 2018 6:21 pm

State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark) will vote in favor of the redistricting constitutional amendment being considered by the legislature, he told the New Jersey Globe on Monday.

Rice, who initially opposed the constitutional amendment, said revisions to the measure that require legislators be appointed to four of the 12 seats on the redistricting commission moved him to back the amendment, which is being pushed by Democratic leaders in the legislature.

“Give me more people that can make these decisions because at least then I can mobilize people against them,” Rice said. “You can’t mobilize the taxpayers against the party chair, but I can tell you this: You give me a legislator. Even if the legislator’s biased, they still have a vested interest in their own district and survival. I can deal with that a lot easier for a lot of reasons.”

Rice said he has been on the wrong side of redistricting before and likes the idea of having some fellow legislators on the panel that determine the political future of himself and others.

“I’ve been victimized by redistricting, Rice said.  “Everything was personal, so when they redistricted, they cut me all the way back into Belleville and Bloomfield, which was the best thing they did to some degree because I fell in love with the cities and the people there. They love me, and then the last time they took away Belleville because I got close to the people in Belleville, and they gave me Glen Ridge.”

Rice has faced a bunch of primaries since joining the Senate in 1986.

He won 53% against Larry Brown in 1997, 54% against former Assembly Majority Leader Willie Brown in 2001, and 52% against Essex County Freeholder Bilal Beasley in 2007.

“Give me more people that can make these decisions because at least then I can mobilize people against them. You can’t mobilize the tax payers against the party chair,” Rice said. “But I can tell you this, you give me a legislator, even if the legislator’s biased, they still have a vested interest in their own district and survival. I can deal with that a lot easier for a lot of reasons.”

Politico first reported Rice’s support for the amendment last week in a story that was behind the site’s paywall.

Rice voted against a similar redistricting measure in 2015 and was viewed as one of the swing votes likely to decide the amendment’s fate.

Democrats in the legislature are aiming to pass the bill by a simple majority in both chambers this month and again early next year to get the amendment on the 2019 ballot.

Murphy’s camp needs to whip five Democratic Senate votes against the amendment to stop it. Rice is one of the governor’s few allies in the legislature, and his defection will make pushing the number of Democratic votes down to 20 considerably more difficult.

It’s near certain that no Republican senators will vote in favor of the amendment, as its passing would put them at something of an institutional disadvantage.

Rice said he also pushed for language giving greater consideration to the state’s communities of interests, which critics said could be hurt by the fairness formula imposed by the amendment.

The amendment would 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.

In New Jersey, those races favor Democrats.

Still, Rice said he could end up flipping to oppose the amendment if legislative leaders don’t follow through and keep up their end of the bargain but given the waiting period associated with passing constitutional amendments in the state, it’s unlikely there’ll be more changes to the measure before it reaches the Senate and Assembly chambers.

“I got those commitments, and my word was if I could get these commitments in here — since I asked for them, it took me about seven, eight hours to get them — then I will support the legislation as amended,” Rice said. “If they take it out, I won’t support it.”

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