Census determines loss of NJ House seat

December 21, 2010 11:50:16 AM PST
New Jersey will have a little less influence in Washington after the Garden State loses one of its 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on new census data released Tuesday.

The data for 2010 shows that while New Jersey remains the most densely populated in the country, it grew at a less robust pace than most other states. It is currently the country's 11th most populated state with 8.8 million residents, slipping two notches from 9th place in 2000 even after gaining 400,000 residents in the past 10 years.

"It means a smaller voice in national affairs," Ernest Reock, a professor emeritus at the Center for Government Services at Rutgers University and a former redistricting committee staff member, said when asked to sum up the effect on Garden State voters.

The loss of a seat also means there will be one less lawmaker in Washington advocating for a return of federal dollars to New Jersey, said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who heads the Democratic State Committee.

Congressional districts that will be newly drawn next year will each contain 710,000 residents, about 60,000 more people than each district now.

New Jersey's downward trend began 30 years ago when the Garden State lost its 15th congressional seat. New Jersey also lost a seat after 1990 count, but the number of congressional districts remained unchanged in 2000.

The shift means one fewer electoral vote for New Jersey - 14 instead of the current 15 - making the state "an incrementally smaller prize for presidential candidates," said Wisniewski, who is on the legislative redistricting panel.

The state is one of eight set to lose one seat in Congress. Others include Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

The numbers will trigger a high-stakes process where the dominant party in each state gets the chance to redraw the election map, shaping the political landscape for the next 10 years.

In New Jersey, a bipartisan commission is assigned to do the redistricting. Republicans and Democrats are already meeting to determine how the new congressional districts will be drawn.

The current makeup of New Jersey's congressional delegation is eight Democrats and five Republicans; when the new Congress is sworn in next month, it will have seven Democrats and six Republicans. Both the state's U.S. senators are Democrats. The governor, Chris Christie, is a Republican.

The map as currently drawn is heavily Republican or heavily Democratic, depending on the district, which results in few competitive congressional races. That was done intentionally and with the agreement of the incumbent congressmen, said Reock.

The new map, however it is redrawn, will push two incumbents into a competitive re-election face-off in a newly drawn district unless at least one New Jersey representative decides not to run again.

The next congressional elections are in 2012.

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