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“I’m not leaning toward any particular scenario,” Farmer said. “That’s why we’re having the discussion. I want to hear what they’re proposing, and then we’ll argue back and forth and negotiate.”
“What I wouldn’t want to see happen is that they just pick a Member and wipe that person out and everybody else stays the same and just absorbs his district,” Farmer said. “That can’t happen.”
And it’s not just a matter of merging two districts into one.
“You’re talking four districts into three, or five districts into four,” a Republican commission source said. “Two Members get combined but not necessarily two districts.”
In the lead-up to this week, Democrats and Republicans have held separate meetings to plot strategy.
“It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle in that if you move one town into one district, it has a domino effect,” the Republican source said. “It’s probably somewhere between a jigsaw puzzle, ‘Risk,’ dominoes and chess.”
Rep. Donald Payne (D), who represents the Newark-based 10th district, is viewed as the safest incumbent. The census determined the majority-minority district now has the smallest population in the state. But as part of the Voting Rights Act compliance, it will likely be off the table for elimination.
His neighbors might not fair so well. The 10th district is part of a densely populated area outside of New York City that did not keep pace with the rest of the state in population growth. Republicans are looking at the area as the site of possible changes.
Incumbents in that area are Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steven Rothman and Republican Rep. Scott Garrett. A state Democratic official added Rep. Albio Sires (D) to the safe column because he is the state’s only Hispanic Representative and removing a minority from the House delegation is “unrealistic.”
“There’s no place where there’s that kind of logjam of districts together in a very small geographic area that all need to gain populations,” the Republican said.
Democrats are looking to the northwest region of the state to eliminate a seat. The Congressmen representing those areas are Garrett and GOP Reps. Leonard Lance and Rodney Frelinghuysen. Despite the slow growth in the area Republicans are targeting, the Democratic official noted that New Jersey is an inherently Democratic-leaning state and that a “six-six delegation is absurd.”
Farmer assigned a different Rutgers law student to serve as an expert for each of the state’s 13 districts. Additionally, he met with each Member of Congress to get a sense of “what should stay or go” in a new map.
Throughout the fall, the commission sought feedback through public hearings and the Internet on how to approach redistricting.