If the GOP’s legislative map proposal, or something like it, is ultimately approved by Legislative Apportionment Commission tiebreaker Philip Carchman, it could create a first for New Jersey: a legislative district where Asian Americans are the largest racial group.
Under the current district lines, five districts are more than 20% Asian: the 16th, 17th, 18th, 31st, and 37th. Three of those – the 16th, 18th, and 37th – are represented by at least one Asian American, while the 17th district has an all-white delegation and the 31st an all-Black delegation.
But whites make up a majority or plurality in all five districts, meaning that Asian New Jerseyans have no one district where they are clearly the dominant demographic. Not coincidentally, the 37th district is the only district in state history to send more than one Asian American legislator to Trenton.
That would change under the Republican legislative proposal released today, which completely revamps the 17th district to incorporate many of Central Jersey’s most heavily Asian American towns. By taking Plainsboro from the current 14th district, West Windsor from the 15th, South Brunswick and Montgomery from the 16th, and Franklin and North Brunswick from the 17th, the GOP’s proposal would create a district that is 39% Asian and just 33% white.
In doing so, the map double-bunks four incumbents, three of whom are white. 16th district State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) and 14th district State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) would be combined into one Senate seat, while 17th district Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-Franklin) and 16th district Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Montgomery) would in theory have a clear path to re-election in the Assembly.
The map also inevitably makes nearby districts less diverse; without their most Asian American towns, the 14th and 16th districts both become whiter and more Republican. Meanwhile, the 18th district – currently the state’s most Asian district at 37% – is essentially dismantled and spread across several other districts. As a result, only four districts around the state would be more than 20% Asian American, instead of the current five.
The Democratic map, on the other hand, doesn’t make the kind of drastic changes needed to make a plurality-Asian district, but it does keep five districts that are more than 20% Asian American.
One of Carchman’s criteria for determining which map he will choose is appropriate representation for New Jersey’s minority population, who currently make up 48% of the state and will likely be in the majority by the end of the decade. By making the 17th district into a plurality-Asian district, Republicans can argue that their map comes closer to meeting Carchman’s goals.
The proposals released today are far from final, however, and one of Carchman’s other criteria, preserving continuity of representation when possible, is entirely eschewed by the Republican redrawing of Central Jersey. But the GOP delegation’s ideas for the 17th district at least provide a clue for how they intend to protect New Jersey’s minority representation while also making changes that benefit their party.