U.S. Census Bureau figures suggest New Jersey stands to lose one of its 13 congressional seats in 2012, leading some to speculate on the impact on one of the country’s most concentrated Jewish populations.
“New Jerseyans will lose out,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville. “But I don’t think there will be any significant fallout for the Jewish community beyond the fact that the person who loses his seat may well be a friend who is in a position of influence. But we don’t know who it is going to be.”
Alan Steinberg, a West Orange Republican who is a visiting public scholar-in-residence for 2010-11 at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, sees a silver lining for Jewish interests.
“I don’t think the Jews are going to suffer,” he said. “Texas has gained two seats, and the two greatest presidents for Israel were from Texas — Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush,” he told NJJN. “The parts of the country where there has been an increase in seats are pro-Israel areas. The fact they are not Jewish areas does not mean there will be negative consequences for Jews, because some of the strongest advocates for Israel are not Jewish. They are born-again Christians.
“So, the fact there are gains in Texas and Florida is very good for the Jews.”
Dworkin warned people to get ready for “an elaborate game of musical chairs.”
“No one is sure how it will all play out, and it doesn’t have to be decided until the end of 2011,” he said of the redistricting battles that follow the decennial census. “If it is at all controversial it will probably end up in court, as most redistricting maps do, because you have to balance a whole lot of racial representation and political balance.”
According to the 2010 national census, the state’s population actually increased by 4.5 percent since the last population count was taken in 2000.
But 10 states in the South and West — many of them heavily Republican — saw their populations increase by 25 percent or more, entitling them to greater shares of the nation’s 235 House seats.
It will be up to a 13-member commission appointed by state Democratic and Republican leaders to redraw congressional borders before the end of 2011.
“New Jersey has one of the better processes in the sense it is bipartisan and doesn’t matter whether the governor is a Democrat or Republican or who controls the legislature, unlike other states,” said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. “That makes it less predictable than those other states,” where one political party clearly has broader influence over political outcomes.
But Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, warned that the elimination process could get ugly.
“When someone’s ox is being gored, it becomes personal,” he told reporters on Dec. 21 after a bill-signing in Wayne, even as he promised that the state would deal with the task “in a responsible way.”
Because the redistricting commission is made up of long-term party loyalists, Weingart said, its members “traditionally would be more supportive of the senior members of their caucus.” Those long-serving members include 11-term Donald Payne (D-Dist. 8) and seven-term Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8) and Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, entering his sixth term (Dist. 11), as opposed to newly elected Jon Runyon (R-Dist. 3).
“It seems there is nobody among the current 13 members of the House who is interested in retiring, but that could change,” said Dworkin. “As the districts get redrawn, someone could see he is going to have a difficult primary fight and would choose to not run, but at this point it looks like it will end up putting two current members in the same district.
“Another factor is it is much less fun to be in the minority than in the majority,” said Dworkin. “That might influence someone to retire.”