(TRENTON) – Assemblywoman Nellie Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen) made the following statement Thursday as the legislative Reapportionment Commission held a public hearing in Trenton:
“Good Afternoon, Co-Chair Wisniewski, Co-Chair Webber and members of the committee.
“I’d also like to extend a welcome to the commission’s newest member, Dr. Alan Rosenthal.
“My name is Nellie Pou and I am here today as the chairwoman of the Assembly Legislative Latino Caucus which is comprised of seven legislative members, one Senator and six Assembly members of Hispanic descent.
“I applaud every member of the public for taking the time today to join this open public process.
“The design of a new map will influence the course of elections for the next decade.
“As Latinos we need to invest in this process to ensure the map reflects the diversity of our great state.
“The recent census clearly attributes the growth in New Jersey’s population to the increasing numbers of Latinos choosing New Jersey as their home.
“Between 2000 and 2010, the Latino population grew from 1.1 million to 1.6 million, going from 13.3% of New Jersey’s population in 2000 to 17.7% in 2010.
“Nearly one in five of our residents are now Latino, and while Latinos grew by 39.2%, the non-Latino population declined slightly by 0.8%.
“The Latino community increased its population in the traditional cities with the largest concentration of Latinos.
“And we are pleased to see that in cities like Perth Amboy with 78%, and Passaic with 71%, Latinos now make up more than 70% of the population in those cities.
“In the case of Union City, as much as 85% of the city is Latino. And in Paterson, 58% of the residents are Latino.
“The Latino community has also reached beyond traditional urban areas to growing suburban towns such as Red Bank which experienced a 34% increase in Latino residents.
“In towns like Bridgeton (43%), population is equally of note. Hightstown (30%) and Wrightstown (28%), in Central Jersey counties posted smaller gains which signal continued future growth.
“These growing Latino communities are contributing to the economic, social and civic progress of our State.
“I believe these gains deserve to be recognized when redrawing our legislative map.
“For two consecutive decades the increase in the Latino population has fueled the growth of our state.
“While I am both proud and pleased that our progress is duly recognized, I am eager to move beyond such an accomplishment to foster a broader dialogue that focuses on building electoral representation proportional to our population.
“In order to engage that dialogue we need to shift the focus from the increasing population of Latinos to considerations such as civic engagement and voting rights.
“We need to increase opportunities for Latinos to choose their elected leadership.
“The Latino communities potential to elect through coalition and crossover districts are definitely reasonable means to achieve effective opportunities for Latinos.
“I am specifically raising this issue in order to address the concern that I’ve read in the press that recent court decisions could be used to dismantle the current map.
“While I may not be pleased by the current representation of Latinos in the legislature, I caution that recent court decisions are not an open invitation to dismantle any existing effective districts – whether the district is a majority-Latino, crossover, or a coalition district.
“And, that there is nothing barring the Commission from creating opportunities for Latinos in areas where Latinos are not the majority – either by creating crossover or coalition districts.
“This Commission is responsible for drawing legislative district lines that are equal in population and that respect traditional districting criteria. Under the Voting Rights Act, it is also prohibited from relying on the process of dilution, whether by packing or cracking the Latino community.
“I do not believe dismantling opportunities for Latinos and creating segregated districts will yield the best results.
“The experience of the last decade did not yield maximum opportunities for Latino candidates; however the progress that has been achieved is largely attributable to the Democratic Party which has sought to recognize the diversity of our communities.
“Our work is only just underway.
“Today, our Latino elected representatives hold leadership positions in their respective democratic caucuses and have a greater opportunity to enact legislation that meaningfully impacts the daily lives of our Latino constituency.
“It’s a good start, but we need to do much more to create opportunities for participation and to protect the voting rights of our community.”