Ahead of Redistricting Battle, NJ Appoints Tiebreaker

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With time running out in New Jersey, the state's redistricting panel can't agree on how to shape the state's 40 legislative  districts based on the 2010 census data.

That impasse automatically triggered the need for State Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner to pick an independent tie-breaker to preside over the panel - composed of five Democrats and five Republican - that deadlocked this week.

Chief Judge Rabner picked an academic who knows the contentious territory, Rutgers University Professor Alan Rosenthal. Rosenthal served in the same capacity in 1992 and 2001.

Fairleigh Dickinson University political scientist Peter Wooley says an impasse should not come as a surprise.

"Even the  people who have drawn the map are not happy with it because you have to consider virtually  every city block in the state  to draw those lines - and they are not just theoretical lines," says Wooley. "They are lines that actually run down the middle of a street."  

Wooley, who also directs FDU Public Mind Poll, says the process invariably turns into bi-partisan incumbent protection.

"Power is conservative and that means a lot of what is behind redistricting is about making sure most people's apple cart is not upset."

The 2010 Census describes a New Jersey political landscape that has evolved considerably from the last count. The state is more diverse, with a population shifting south within the state that could mean a decline in political clout for the densely populated Jersey suburbs of New York City.

But the entire state as a whole is just not growing in population sufficiently enough to justify holding on to all 13 of its existing House seats. Wooley says map makers have to re-configure the state into 12 districts, which will mean at least one incumbent will either battle it out with another or just retire.

"Mostly the incumbents don't want to be redrawn into unfriendly districts whether those incumbent are Republicans or Democrats," says Wooley. "They don't want a situation where they have to work hard to be re-elected."

By June the panel has to reset the state's Congressional  districts. But before the panel can turn to the House map, they have until April 3 to define the state's legislative districts for the State Senate and Assembly, both of which are up for election this November.

While Democrats currently control both the State Senate and Assembly, they did lose one House seat last fall when Republican newcomer Jon Runyan bested Democratic incumbent John Adler. Democrats now hold a 7-6 edge in the House delegation make-up.

However the re-districting panel's map comes out, it could all end up before the Federal courts.