New Jersey governor calls for redistricting reform

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says he wants to reform the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn in his state, days after legislative leaders canceled a vote on a controversial plan that good government groups called a blatant power grab. 

In an interview with The Hill, Murphy applauded the decision to shelve the proposed overhaul, despite the fact that it likely would have cemented Democratic control of the state legislature and congressional delegation for years to come.

ADVERTISEMENT

The measure sparked outrage from Republicans, Democrats and groups that advocate for fair district lines. 

“That was the right thing to do,” Murphy said of the decision to pull the bill. “I’ve never said that I thought the way we do it was perfect, so if someone’s got some proposals that open up democracy, make it more transparent, less political, count me in. I’m all for that. This did the opposite of that.”

“Anything that gets proposed the night before Thanksgiving smells, without even reading it,” Murphy said.

New Jersey is one of two states, along with Hawaii, that gives power to a commission of elected officials to draw its congressional district lines. The proposed change pulled last month would have required the commission to take partisan election results into consideration, likely giving Democrats a big advantage in an already blue state.

The proposal also would have given state legislative leaders a much greater say in who sits on the commission. In practice, that would have meant a transfer of power from the governor to the state legislature.

The criticism of the bill “tapped into something that I would call an outrage agenda in our state,” Murphy said. “It’s classic inside the bubble Trenton politics, and everybody else is on the outside holding the bag.”

Murphy, entering his second year as governor, has feuded off and on with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D), who backed the redistricting overhaul.

“Many of us continue to believe that the redistricting process can be improved so that it more accurately reflects the will of the voters. We also believe that it should be improved to be more transparent and accountable,” Sweeney said in a statement after the vote was pulled. “We will study the input from the public, public officials and others to determine if the plan can be improved to better achieve these goals.”

Murphy said the coalition that stood up to oppose the bill — which included the state Republican Party and former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials We can't allow presidents and public opinion to further diminish the work of the press Democrats sue over North Carolina's congressional maps MORE, who advocates for fairer redistricting processes — “was overwhelming in its breadth and passion.”

In a statement of his own, Holder said the New Jersey proposal failed to live up to appropriate standards of fairness and transparency.

Murphy insisted his relationship with Sweeney is “professional.” 

“I don’t really take any of this stuff personally,” he said.

Redistricting reform is likely to become a focus in states like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Maryland when their legislatures convene this year.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) created a redistricting reform commission to study ways the state can update its decennial mapping process. In New Hampshire, Democrats who won control of the state legislature last year are considering a new overhaul of their own. 

And in Maryland, legislators are likely to redraw lines after a federal judge ruled a congressional district, soon to be held by Democrat David TroneDavid John TroneMaryland lawmakers slam 'despicable' Trump remark about journalists on newsroom shooting anniversary WHIP LIST: The 228 House Democrats backing an impeachment inquiry 2020 Presidential Endorsements MORE, was improperly drawn.