The following editorial by Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman on a state constitutional amendment that would give Democrat legislators lifelong tenure in elected office, even when they fail constituents or when voters want a change in representation, was published in the Asbury Park Press on January 8, 2016:
Sen. Kip Bateman’s editorial opposing an attempt by State Democrats to pass a constitutional amendment that would result in fewer competitive legislative elections. (SenateNJ.com)
I introduce, vote and debate policies in Trenton, conscious of every constituency I represent in the diverse 16th legislative district. Being a public servant for such a competitive voting district is a healthy challenge, reflecting the strong will for democracy that created America.
As our country grew, so too did the quest for equal voting rights. Legendary leaders, such as Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr., dedicated their lives to the cause of securing equal voting rights for minority citizen populations.
Unconscionably, New Jersey Democrats are fast-tracking a constitutional amendment that would severely undermine those historic democratic and civil rights successes.
They are billing SCR-188/ACR-4 as an attempt to bring balance to New Jersey’s legislative redistricting process and greater voter turnout in competitive elections. In reality this amendment is an attempt to trick voters into giving Democrat legislators lifelong tenure in elected office even when they fail constituents or when voters want a change in representation. Experts, pollsters, professors, minority population representatives, grassroots organizations, nonpartisan policy professionals, editorial boards and residents of all political affiliations have echoed this same warning in their public statements against this legislation.
More troubling than this amendment’s requirement that state legislative districts be drawn using irrelevant federal and statewide political data, is its attempt to enshrine in the state constitution a mandate that at least 30 of this state’s 40 legislative districts be non-competitive. This would mean taxation without representation for 75 percent of the state’s population and render meaningless the votes of 75 percent of the voting population who would not be able to change predetermined election outcomes.
In other words, under SCR-188, 90 of New Jersey’s 120 legislators will have a free pass and the vast of majority of New Jerseyans will have no real way to hold their elected legislator accountable or to influence the policies and decisions made in Trenton that affect their everyday lives. It would disenfranchise millions of residents and prevent minority populations, many of which are underserved, from being able to elect candidates of their choice.
Even SCR-188’s metrics to create 10 “competitive” districts is fundamentally flawed. As Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute opined, those “competitive” districts would be anything but and could still favor Democrats by anywhere from 7 to 17 percentage points.
Yes, under the current biased legislative map there are many non-competitive districts, but that can change depending on an upcoming U.S. federal court ruling or in a few years when a new map is drawn using a bipartisan process.
If we are going to attempt to change the current redistricting process, our overall goal should be to ensure that as many legislative districts as possible are competitive, not to constitutionally or purposefully make any percentage of legislative races uncompetitive as the Democrats’ amendment would do. We should also do everything possible to keep politicians out of the business of crafting legislative districts, not to give political powers more power over that process as the Democrats’ amendment would do.
And we should go through this process in a careful, deliberate manner as was done the last time the redistricting process was changed through a Constitutional Convention that involved extensive research, nine public committee hearings and an abundance of public testimony and input.
As was the case with the 1966 convention, changes of this magnitude should be openly vetted for months, not hashed out behind closed doors and then hastily pushed through the legislature in an attempt to give the public as little time as possible to weigh in over the holidays.