Pandemic numbers here in New Jersey are really looking good. Sixty percent of state residents have received at least one vaccine dose. The rate of transmission (any number over 1 means the virus is spreading) plunged all week, settling on .60 by last Friday. The number of people hospitalized dropped below 1,600, the lowest total since November. Governor Murphy’s approval rating, at 58% in an April 1st Monmouth poll, will surely rise. He’s up for reelection this November.
In this observer’s own town of Bridgewater, about 30 minutes west of New York City, real estate demand is soaring. Two houses on our block have sold this year and a third is up for sale. People are moving in from New York City and the New Jersey towns across the river. People are moving out too. New Jersey is a high tax state that had benefited from its location near New York City. But people don’t want to go there anymore. Why stay? One hears destinations talked about at the bus stop and in the gym. The Carolinas are popular, as is Florida, of course. These migrations and the border crises are reshaping the electorate.
President Biden gave his first State of the Union address last week before a mostly empty house. Biden read a laundry list of spending priorities amounting to trillions and trillions of dollars and debt. These will set the legislative agenda for the rest of the year. He also called the 1/6 Capital Hill protest “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” Biden made no mention of the border crisis. The television viewing public largely stayed away as just 26.9 million people tuned in. By contrast Trump’s first State of the Union drew 47.7 million viewers. A total of 37.2 million people watched Trump’s last address.
Before the speech, Congresswoman and GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R, Wyoming), caused something of a sensation when she fist-bumped the president. Cheney, once thought to be a rising star within House GOP leadership, incurred the wrath of the Republican base and much of the caucus when she blamed President Trump for the January 6th Capitol Hill protest and voted to impeach him. Cheney has already been censured by the Wyoming GOP and faced a leadership challenge in the House, she survived. At a recent House GOP retreat in Orlando, Cheney stood by her impeachment vote and said anyone challenging the 2020 election results should be ‘disqualified’ from running for president in 2024. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise was not pleased, “This idea that you just disregard President Trump is not where we are, and, frankly, he has a lot to offer still,” he said. Cheney faces several primary challengers back in Wyoming. Should Cheney survive the primary (she is certain to win re-election) the 2022 house in which she serves will look different.
Those inclined to believe the Democrats stole the 2020 election, including this observer, point to Joe Biden’s lack of coattails. Winning presidential candidates drag members of their party across the finish line. But not Biden. The Democrats made no gains in the senate until the Georgia special elections, barely held on to the house, and didn’t flip a single state legislature. This last failure has consequences that will last a decade.
Every ten years the federal government carries out a Constitutionally mandated census. This affects federal funds to the states as well as congressional apportionment. The news is pretty grim for the blue states. In the last decade there’s been a steady flow of people out of the blue states to the southern and western red states. This accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. New York (300,000 people fled New York City during the pandemic alone), Illinois and California are each losing a congressional seat while Texas will gain two seats, Florida one, and North Carolina one. While red states Ohio and West Virginia are losing a seat, overall the congressional reapportionment favors red states by at least three seats overall. Right now, the Democrats have a majority of six seats in the house.
Here's where it gets really bad for the Democrats. The Constitution mandates that each congressional district contain roughly the same number of people. Those districts get redrawn after every census. In most states those districts are drawn by the state legislatures for the maximum benefit of the party in power in a process called gerrymandering. The term comes from former Massachusetts Governor and Vice President Elbridge Gerry (pronounced with a hard “j”). In the early 19th century Gerry oversaw the drawing of a Massachusetts congressional district that critics said looked like a Salamander, hence Gerrymander. This observer’s own 7th Congressional District looks kind of like an upside down Ukraine as it meanders across northern New Jersey to the Pennsylvania border. Through Gerrymandering parties can create new districts and redraw a sitting congressman’s district out from under him. Gerrymandering is also used to create majority black congressional districts to guarantee black representatives in Congress. The Republican Party controls the legislatures in Florida, Texas, Ohio and a host of swing states. In the 2022 congressional elections and throughout the 2020s the congressional map will heavily favor Republicans.