Now that Senate and Assembly leaders have backed off their plans for a constitutional amendment to change the way legislative districts are drawn, Gov. Phil Murphy will need to decide if he wants to give grassroots progressive organizations seats at the table as members of the Legislative Apportionment Commission.
Activists led the opposition to the redistricting plan, and several individuals involved say they expect to be part of the group that draws the new map after the next census.
“They also don’t get to do business as usual,” said one progressive organization leader involved in backing legislators off the plan. “We have the power now.”
Democratic State Chairman John Currie, a staunch Murphy ally, names all five members of the independent map-making panel, presumably with input from the governor.
Currie’s term expires on January 30, 2020 and he is expected to make his appointments before then, just in case political rivals attempt to take control of the chairmanship.
In January 2010, during his final hours as Democratic State Chairman, then-Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union) appointed himself and State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) to the legislative redistricting chairman and left three seats for the incoming chairman, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), to fill.
Wisniewski chose not to challenge the legality of those appointments, which came one year before the census numbers were certified. That doesn’t preclude a new state chairman from doing so, if it comes to that.
The question for Murphy is how many of the five seats he is willing to give away.
The consensus among a group of activists contacted by the New Jersey Globe is that a reasonable number is two.
“One is not enough. That’s would be a token seat. We’ll never get three, so two is the right number,” another activist said.
Action Together New Jersey executive director Uyen “Winn” Khuong, who played a key role in defeating the redistricting plan, said that the part of the proposal she liked best was the creation of two public member seats on the commission.
“The pillars of our democracy are crumbling,” Khuong said. “No one party had a monopoly on that.”
If Currie’s ability to appoint redistricting commission members holds, it gives Murphy some level of control over the political future on several Democratic legislators. That’s a giant stick for the governor to hold for the next three years.
All five of the Democratic legislative redistricting commission members in 2011 were legislators.
There will be a long line of activists seeking Murphy’s support for appointment to the commission.
An early expanded short list of possible activist appointments to the commission include: Khuong, whose organization played a major role in flipping three Republican congressional seats in the mid-term election; Analilia Mejia, the executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance; Marcia Marley, the president of Blue WaveNJ; former Rutgers Law School dean Ronald Chen, the general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union; New Jersey NAACP president Richard Smith; NJ 11th for Change executive director Saily Avelenda; New Jersey Citizen Action president Phyllis Salowe-Kaye; Ryan Haygood, the president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice; New Jersey League of Women Voters president Nancy Hedinger; and Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
In addition to grassroots activists, look for top labor leaders with ties to Murphy seek some representation on the redistricting commission. Possible candidates include: New Jersey Education Association president Marie Blistan and vice president Sean Spiller; Communications Workers of America state director Hetty Rosenstein; and Laborers’ International Union vice president and eastern regional manager Raymond Pocino.