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State Senator Sam Thompson. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Faced with redrawn seats, incumbents have reserved reactions

Each proposal could force a large number of incumbents to move or retire

By Joey Fox, February 15 2022 11:58 am

Following the release of two draft legislative maps last week, New Jersey’s 120 legislators have all had the opportunity to review how their own districts would change under each proposal – and for around two dozen of them, the future is looking murky.

That’s because each proposal unmoors some incumbents from their current district – the Democratic map moves eight and the Republican map eleven – and strands others in versions of their current district that would be tough for them to hold in a general election. But asked yesterday about the proposed changes, five of the affected incumbents all expressed optimism and patience about the redistricting process.

One of the Republican incumbents most at risk under the Democratic map is newly elected Assemblyman Brandon Umba (R-Lumberton). Umba would be thrown out of his current competitive district, the 8th, and put instead in the redrawn 7th district, which would have voted for Gov. Phil Murphy by seven points last year and would likely be unwinnable for Republicans except in a truly exceptional political environment.

“We’ll let the process play out, and see what happens,” Umba said of the proposal. “I’m focused on my first term, and getting to work for the next two years for the people of the 8th district. Whatever happens in redistricting happens, and we’ll decide then.”

On the Republican map, meanwhile, 14th district State Sen. Linda Greenstein’s hometown of Plainsboro is taken from her current district and put into the 17th, where State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) also lives.

If such a proposal comes to pass, Greenstein would have to decide between staying in Plainsboro and competing in a largely new district or moving to the new boundaries of the 14th district, which was drawn to be much more Republican than its current incarnation. Naturally, Greenstein said she prefers the Democratic proposal.

“I like the Democratic map, because it keeps the district substantially the same,” Greenstein said. “It is a great district; it’s not some brand-new concocted district. It’s a district that’s been around for a while… And the people in the district seem very content and happy with how things are.”

The GOP redraw of Central Jersey also throws together 12th district State Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Old Bridge) and 18th district Assemblyman Sterley Stanley (D-East Brunswick) into a completely retooled, highly competitive new 12th district.

For Thompson, such maneuvering is nothing new. He used to be an assemblyman from the 13th district, which covered his hometown of Old Bridge and northern Monmouth County, until the 2011 map drawn by Democrats put him in a new district that stretched south into Ocean and Burlington Counties.

 “The Republican proposal [this year] does the same thing the Democrats did to me ten years ago,” Thompson said. “Ten years ago, I was left with only two towns: Old Bridge, where I live, and Matawan. That’s what the Republican proposal does also. I’d only keep those two towns, and my Assembly running mate, Ronald Dancer, would be thrown out of the district.”

But despite the complete reworking of his district, Thompson – who will be 88 on Election Day 2023 and has faced retirement rumors for years – didn’t seem concerned.

“[Both parties] kind of stick it to me, but I’m not worried,” he said.

The Central Jersey redraw additionally moves East Brunswick, which has been in the 18th district with Edison since the 40-district system was inaugurated in 1973, into the 12th district. That’s likely bad news for Stanley, who would trade tens of thousands of South Asian voters in his current district for a much whiter and much more Republican constituency – but like Thompson and Umba, he had no harsh words for the map.

“It’s way above my pay grade, so I’m not worried about it,” Stanley said. “Whichever way the district goes, I’ll still campaign no matter what.”

While the political futures of many legislators are imperiled under each map, there are a few who stand to substantially benefit, including 7th district Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Mount Laurel). On the Democratic map, Murphy’s running mates, State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Delran) and Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Delran), would be shifted to the 8th district, leaving her in the driver’s seat for the 7th district’s open Senate seat.

Murphy said that she sent a letter praising the Democratic proposal for its unification of the Rancocas Creek area, which includes her hometown of Mount Laurel as well as other towns that would be shifted from the 8th district into the 7th.

“As a person who lives along Rancocas Creek, … I see those folks and those businesses united not only from an economic standpoint, but from just a pure standpoint of relationships with each other,” she said. “But I also know the folks I represent now, and I am happy with them, so either which way I will still be there for everybody I represent.”

Beginning today, the Legislative Apportionment Commission will be staying in a Central Jersey hotel to hash out a final map. During that process, tiebreaking member Philip Carchman may tell each party to move incumbents back into their current districts when possible, undoing some of the chaos created by each proposal.

All of the legislators put in a difficult situation by one or both maps will have to hope Carchman or their party’s delegation stands up for them; if not, 2022 may be a year of difficult decisions.

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