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The New Face of the Legislature

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

Now that the primary candidate petitions have been filed, we can start to get a good sense of what the New Jersey legislature’s demographics will look like come January. And with few exceptions, the new face of the legislature will look a lot like the old one.

Minority representation was probably the hottest point of contention during the drawing of the new legislative map. Based on candidate filings, the number of minority legislators will definitely increase. Not by as much as the Latino Leadership Alliance and others wanted, but probably by enough to undermine any legal challenge to the map based on the Voting Rights Act.

Currently, New Jersey has one Latina state senator (district 29) and seven Latino members of the General Assembly (districts 5, 20, 29, 32, 35, and two in 33). After the November election, each chamber will see a gain – district 35 where a Latina will move up from the Assembly to the Senate and districts 4 and 36 in the Assembly. The net effect will amount to 10 Latinos in the new legislature compared to eight today.

African-Americans now account for four senators (districts 15, 28, 31, 34) and 11 assembly members (districts 5, 7, 15, 22, 27, 28, 29, 31, 34, 35, 37). The new legislature will see the same number of senators and anywhere from 11 to 14 African-Americans in the lower house (based on potential for gains in districts 2, 7, and 35). This means the African-American community will at the very least maintain the same number of legislators and could perhaps add three more. My best estimate at the current time is a gain of one or two seats.

Asians currently hold one seat in each chamber (district 40 in the Senate and district 17 in the Assembly). That won’t change after the November election.

The interesting thing here is that the increase in racial and ethnic minorities in the New Jersey legislature has little to do with any supposed opportunities created by the map that came out of the redistricting process. In fact, if you analyze the proportion of Hispanics and blacks in each district, you will find very little change from the current map to the new one. In 35 out of 40 districts, the proportion of either Hispanic or black residents changed by no more than three percentage points. And even in the other five districts, there will be little change in representation.

District 34 saw the largest increase in minority population, going from 37% to 45% black, but it is already represented by two African-American legislators. District 27 saw the biggest drop, from 32% to 14% black, but it will still include an African-American in its legislative delegation, at least this year.

The real reason for the increase in minority numbers is not the map itself, but the Democratic Party’s need to mollify some unhappy constituent groups. For instance, the two Assembly pick-ups for Latinos come in districts that have not changed much demographically – the 36th (going from 35% to 37% Hispanic) and the 4th (going from 6% Hispanic to 7% Hispanic).

African-Americans will increase their legislation representation in the 35th, where Assemblywoman Nellie Pou will move up to the Senate to joining Teresa Ruiz as the only Latinas in that chamber. The new district will be represented by one Latina in the Senate and two African-Americans in the Assembly, which is worth noting in the context of the redistricting controversy. The district’s population is actually more Hispanic (48%) than Black (25%).

African-American representation may also increase in other districts without overly large black populations. These include the 7th – where the black population actually dropped by five points to 24% in the new map – and in the 2nd which is 20% black.

And for those concerned about the New Jersey legislature’s gender balance, I expect little or no change. There are currently 10 female Senators and 24 Assemblywomen. After the November election, there will be either 10 or 11 women in the Senate and between 22 and 24 women in the General Assembly. My best estimate at this time is that the total number of female legislators will stay stable at 34.