Congressional redistricting commission 13th member John Farmer Jr. said nothing is predetermined about the process that began today with the adopting of the bylaws and setting of the public hearings and he will let the process evolve over the course of the next four months.
Farmer, who was chosen in a show of bi-partisan support by both the Democratic and Republican redistricting teams, said his main focus will be to preserve the constitutional edict of one man one vote.
“The reality is New Jersey is losing a seat in Congress so it’s likely to be a protracted negotiations before any map is adopted,” Farmer said before the first meeting of the commission.
Asked whether he hopes for a map that will create more competitive districts, Farmer was non-committal about what criteria he might use to ultimately adopt the map, preferring instead to keep an open mind about the proceedings.
“I don’t go in with any predispositions,” he said. “I’m going to spend the next month or so educating myself and I think those issues will become clear.
“We will try to balance all of the interests of New Jersey” when adopting the map, he said.
In his opening remarks, Republican Commission Chairman Mike DuHaime said the commission has already begun to work in a bi-partisan fashion and should look to the governor and the Legislature for a model of how to continue.
“We should look to our own governor and Legislature,” he said. “They have worked well together to come together and find agreements on big issues. It’s not always easy and it’s not always pretty, but it can be done.”
Former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, who will chair the Democratic commission, said the legislative apportionment process that took place earlier this year has set the tone for the next four months.
Roberts said the commission has much work to do and should use the exercise to look at the overall make-up of the congressional delegation, calling it a “black eye on our state” that there has not been a single female representative in the delegation since the retirement of Marge Roukema, a Republican who represented both the 7th and 5th Congressional Districts. Roukema retired from Congress in 2003.
The deadline to adopt the new map is Jan. 17. The commission will hold three public hearings in that time, the first of which will take place Sept. 22 in Camden County. The commission will be forced to eliminate one district to account for population growth that was slower than the national average.
Several potential scenarios are in play as both sides hope to preserve their current representation.