Latinos are 20% of the state yet they got 0% representation on N.J.’s redistricting panel | Opinion
By Patricia Campos-Medina and Laura Matos
On the heels of a national election that saw Latinx voters participating at a rate never before seen in this country, New Jersey political leaders are once again showing Latinos in our state that their voices don’t deserve to be heard.
This past Sunday, the New Jersey Democratic party named their five voting members to the New Jersey Legislative Reapportionment Commission, joining the already-named five Republican voting members, bringing the makeup of that commission, tasked with deciding how lawmakers will represent us in Trenton for the next 10 years, to eight men and two women; one African American, one Asian-American and zero Latinx representation.
Following the national trend, as we saw in the elections across our state, New Jersey Republicans did not distance themselves from Donald Trump. As such, their lack of inclusion of Latinx representation on their side of the aisle, while disappointing, was not surprising.
However, for a New Jersey governor and a statewide Democratic Party that calls itself the party of diversity and of progressive values, the absence of a Latinx voting member on the commission is an embarrassment and blatantly disrespects the growing diversity of New Jersey’s population. And while closing Latinos out of the decision-making process, this act clearly demonstrates a deliberate intent to disenfranchise our communities in the work of this commission.
Prompted by the disrespect shown to Latinos by the Trump administration, Latinos voted in record numbers in the 2020 presidential election. The lesson learned from this awakened electorate is that our community will not be held hostage to the interests of political parties over the concerns of our community.
As Latinos demonstrated in this election and in previous years, our community is not monolithic. Chris Christie won the Latino vote in 2013 because Latino voters look favorably on state party leaders who court their votes with deeds, not just false promises.
Given current data trends, we already know the Latino presence has grown in most of New Jersey’s 21 counties. In fact, Latinos are expected to increase to 22.2% of the state’s population after the 2020 U.S. Census count. In fact, New Jersey voters approved a ballot question on redistricting because they were told by New Jersey legislators that a delay in the Census data would adversely impact this same group that they are now excluding by denying a voting member in the Redistricting Commission.
For the last 20 years, the women of Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE) have engaged in discussions on redistricting and have been key in the process of designing a legislative map that increased our number of legislators in New Jersey from a mere 3% in 2000 to approximately 9% in 2010. In partnership with institutions like the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), LUPE has developed programs to empower more Latinas to run and seek public office so we can create a bench of local leaders ready to enact policies that impact our families and our children’s future. Following the example of women leaders like Stacey Abrams, we will continue to educate Latina voters to choose leaders who stand up for our community’s future.
After all, New Jersey will never be stronger or fairer until the redistricting process responds to the demands of its diverse citizens as outlined under the National Voting Rights Act.
Equitable representation during redistricting matters because it sets the stage for political opportunity for a new bench of Latino leaders at all levels of government. As the state’s only non-partisan organization advocating for political education and empowerment for Latinas, LUPE respectfully requests inclusion in ongoing discussions with all 10 voting members of the commission to ensure lines are drawn fairly to secure representation for our state’s minority communities.
We will not move backward on representation. We will move forward.
Patricia Campos Medina is the president of Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE Inc.), a statewide non-partisan organization advocating for the economic, educational and political empowerment of Latinas.