Redistricting expert Tom Bonier, who acted as a consultant to the Democratic congressional reapportionment team last year, has some harsh words for the map and the man who chose it.
In an Op-Ed submitted to PolitickerNJ, Bonier, who has worked on redistricting campaigns throughout the country, savages the map ultimately chosen by tie-breaking member John Farmer Jr. as well as Farmer himself, saying the map is “partisan gerrymandered” and the man who chose it a “complete disaster.’ Farmer chose the map created by the Republican commission, which combined three North Jersey districts and all but guaranteed that the odd man out when the delegation shrank from 13 to 12 would be a Democrat.
“Despite Farmer’s impressive and distinguished success in virtually every other endeavor of public service, New Jerseyans can only hope that the “former” title attached to his position as a redistricting tiebreaker will remain forever permanent,” Bonier wrote. “In other words, (Rutgers Law School) Dean Farmer should never, ever be permitted to be a neutral redistricting tiebreaker in any redistricting exercise going forward.”
In the Op-Ed, sent four days after Election Day, Bonier decries the lack of competition fostered by the new map, which created an evenly split congressional delegation in the state.
“This week’s results for New Jersey’s 12 congressional districts – 11 landslide victories and one 8% margin – were predetermined months ago, the product of a colossal error by the reapportionment commission’s Independent member,” Bonier said.
According to Bonier, Farmer erred heavily by failing to institute a test to prevent gerrymandering, splitting apart towns that had been in the same district since the 1800’s, failing to hold a public hearing on the map he supported, discriminating against North Jersey by determining that the lost district should come from the northern half of the state, and most egregiously – according to Bonier – not allowing voters to choose whether the lost delegation member should be a Republican or a Democrat.
Democrats had hoped that the map ultimately chosen by Farmer would allow for one so-called “fair fight” district where a Republican and Democrat would square off in an evenly partisan district.
Instead, Farmer chose the map submitted by Republicans that moved U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman from the heavily Democratic 9th District to the Republican 5th District, forcing Rothman to choose whether he would challenge 5th District Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett or move to another district to challenge another sitting representative.
Ultimately, Rothman chose to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell in the newly configured 9th. Pascrell won the primary going away, leaving Rothman without a seat and the delegation evenly split at six Democrats and six Republicans.
Tuesday’s election added insult to injury over Rothman’s decision as unfunded challenger Adam Gussen lost to Garrett by just 13 points, sparking speculation that had Rothman chosen to run in the 5th he could have won.
Last week, a source close to Farmer said the elimination of a Democratic district was the result of demographics, not politics, because the districts that lost the most residents over the past decade were all represented by Democrats. In order to try to preserve seven seats, Democrats presented pretzeled districts that deviated from Farmer’s priorities of compactness and continuity, the source said.
Republicans also defended Tuesday’s results, saying Dmeocrats had a legitimate chance in three districts that ultimately went for Republicans but chose weak candidates to run in those districts.
“It is hard to blame the map when our members of Congress were simply much better and stronger than the challengers the Democrats offered up,” said Mike DuHaime, who chaired the GOP redistricting team.
Read Bonier’s full Op-Ed here.