(TRENTON) – Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) made the following statement Thursday as the Legislative Apportionment Commission held a public hearing in Trenton:
“As a Member of the Legislative Apportionment Commission in 2001, I come to this year’s process with advice borne out of personal experience. The arguments being advanced today by Republican members of this commission are eerily identical to the ones we heard 10 years ago.
“The message I am hearing from Republicans is this:
“Even though the Democrats are the only political party consistently nominating and electing minority legislators, they want to tell this commission how Democrats are wrongly going about achieving diversity in the Legislature.
“And their method hasn’t changed either. Last time, they tried to pack as many African Americans into as few districts as possible, arguing that it was the only way to get more African Americans elected to the legislature.
“This time, they are saying the exact same thing about Latinos. Except there is one thing, one very significant thing, different now than 10 years ago:
“We now have experience with a map that rejected their cynical and hypocritical strategy. And what does it tell us?
“First, as an African-American who’s been elected consistently in a district that is less than 30 percent African-American, it tells us that they ARE wrong.
“And not just about the 15th Legislative District, but about all of them.
“We’ve got an African-American and a Latino representing the 5th Legislative District, which is 25 percent African-American and 22 percent Hispanic.
“We’ve got an African-American representing the 7th legislative district, which is 26.5 percent African-American.
“My district, the 15th, is 29.2 percent African-American: represented by an African-American Senator and me.
“The 20th District is 42 percent Hispanic, now represented by a Latina Assemblywoman.
“The 27th District is 30 percent African-American and has an African-American Assemblywoman.
“And the list goes on and on into Hudson, Essex, Passaic and Bergen counties.
“And the degree to which the Republicans were wrong doesn’t stop there.
“The empowerment of minorities in New Jersey politics didn’t end with getting more elected to the Legislature. That is only the beginning.
“During the last decade we elected the first Cuban-American Speaker and the first female African-American Speaker of the Assembly.
“And Bob Menendez rose to the U.S. Senate after serving on the Union City school board, in the Assembly, in the Senate and as a Member of Congress.
“And all of this happened because Sen. Menendez, and in fact all of us, received votes from whites as well as minority voters.
“New Jersey celebrates its diversity, not by practicing segregation and polarization, but by electing representatives of our choosing no matter what the color of their skin.
“So, maps have consequences, and so do elections. The last 15 months have made that painfully clear.
“We have a governor elected by less than 50 percent of New Jersey’s voters whose policies are doing untold damage to the poor and the middle class: cutting aid to public schools, eliminating the earned income tax credit, cutting Planned Parenthood, cutting aid for home energy assistance, cutting Medicaid, declining to re-nominate an African-American Justice to the State Supreme Court, cutting health insurance for children and causing the laying off thousands of police, firefighters and teachers.
“WHILE at the same time, giving millionaires a tax break.
“In fact, the only thing standing between my constituents and this Governor’s administration doing even more damage to them is a Legislature where 23 of the 24 minority legislators are Democrats; a Legislature where 56 percent of the committees are chaired or vice-chaired by minority legislators.
“However, if the arguments being advanced by the Republican members of this Commission prevail, there would probably be no more than one minority legislator occupying a position of power in the Legislature.
“That’s not only because all of us are Democrats, it’s also because Republicans don’t even bother to nominate minority candidates to run for the Legislature in competitive districts.
“So when we hear Republicans again espousing this same misguided, unsubstantiated claim that district packing serves to promote opportunity and diversity, just remember the evidence proves otherwise.
“Clearly this claim represents a gospel of self-interest, not the public interest.
“I respectfully request that every member of this Commission recognize the significant increase in minority representation in the Legislature is due to the principles that guided the current district configuration.
“And again, based on this empirical evidence, seek to preserve and protect the equal value of every person’s vote.”