(TRENTON) – Assembly Deputy Speaker Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset/Middlesex) made the following statement Thursday as the legislative Reapportionment Commission held a public hearing in Trenton:
“Good afternoon everyone.
“I want to start by thanking everyone on this commission for taking the time to serve in this important effort to shape our state for the next decade to come.
“Your time and effort is much appreciated.
“I’d also like to thank everyone offering testimony at this public hearing for providing their valuable thoughts and ideas.
“Your time and effort is also much appreciated.
“This is truly an example of democracy at work.
“I’m happy to be here today in Trenton, our historic capital city.
“I’ve had the honor of working in this building as an Assemblyman for the 17th Legislative District since 2002.
“It’s been an honor to work here as we strive to improve the lives of New Jersey residents, and it’s been an honor to have served with such a diverse group of legislators from throughout New Jersey.
“But it’s also been an honor because I know I’ve filled a unique role in this Legislature.
“If you don’t mind me taking a minute, let me tell you a bit about myself.
“I was born in a town called Nellore, India.
“I grew up in India and attended college there before coming to America to get a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the City College of New York.
“But public policy has always been something of great interest to me, so in 1997 I was elected to the Franklin Township Council.
“In 2001, I had the distinct privilege of becoming the first Indian-American elected to the New Jersey General Assembly and the fourth Indian-American in the United States to be elected to state office.
“This was all made possible by the newly diverse legislative map that was drawn up that year.
“Now serving my fifth term, I am chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.
“I am also a Deputy Assembly Speaker.
“It’s been a great experience, and I have the people of the 17th Legislative District to thank for giving me this opportunity.
“And it’s a district, by the way, that shows the importance of creating opportunities for all New Jerseyans.
“We must keep in mind that the Asian-American population is the fastest growing at 51 percent and is currently at 8.2 percent, growing from 5.7 percent in 2000.
“Also, Asian-American voters grew 54 percent since 2000 and now make up 8.1 percent of the total voting age population, versus 5.6 percent in 2000.
“In this global economy, Asian-Americans play a key role and need appropriate representation in the Legislature to promote international trade.
“I am fortunate to represent an extremely diverse 17th District with white residents making up 37 percent of the district’s voting age population.
“Asian – 22 percent, Hispanic – 22 percent and African-America residents – 21 percent – make up a total of 63 percent of the voting age population.
“Despite this diversity, the district has elected an Asian-American assemblyman – myself – consistently by a strong coalition of white voters voting with Asian, African-American and Hispanic voters.
“During the past decade, Democratic candidates for governor and the state legislature have averaged above 63 percent of the vote in the district, regardless of race.
“This underscores the success of drawing a racially diverse district while not packing in voters of any one particular race.
“Any plan to pack African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and other minorities into their own separate districts would give us a Legislature that does not reflect New Jersey’s reality.
“It would give us a Legislature, in fact, built on an un-American foundation.
“The experience of the last 10 years has vindicated the creation of districts that enable more opportunities for minority candidates. That has served New Jersey well, and it must continue.
“Note, that in the past decade, we’ve seen:
“Six Latinos, all Democrats, to the State Legislature.
“A Cuban-American Democrat as New Jersey’s first Latino Assembly Speaker.
“The first African American female Speaker, also a Democrat.
“Is our work done?
“Of course not.
“But no one can deny the progress we’ve made.
“And no one can argue that packing minorities into their own districts would represent progress.
“It would represent a step backwards. It would delete all the advancements we’ve made.
“Quite simply, that cannot happen.
“So as you move toward completing your work, I would urge everyone to do so with this in mind – our Legislature must reflect the great opportunities our great state offers.
“We need a fair map that reflects reality, not one that recalls the outdated thinking of the past.”