Archive for category Redistricting

Unilateral Disarmament

Among the products of 2011’s Great Reapportionment Debacle has been a claim by State Representative Amy Stephens that Democrats on the Reapportionment Commission have been particularly aggressive in targeting Republican women legislators, combining their districts with others represented by sitting Republicans.

Her comments have produced a fair amount of tut-tutting and cluck-clucking, not from the Left, when too much protest doth be expected, but from fellow Republicans, concerned that such claims are unbecoming a party priding itself on a meritocratic approach to politics, as opposed to one driven by race and gender demographics.

I dissent.

Indeed, properly done, such a complaint is not merely smart politics, it’s all the smarter for having the added virtue of being true.

Politics being what it is, meaning that life and people being what they are, hypocrisy is among the easiest charges to level against any opponent claiming to have standards.  It’s one rhetorical advantage that Democrats have always had over Republicans.  Nobody understood this better than the Democrats’ current Pamphleteer of Record, Saul Alinsky, who included in his toolkit making the opposition live by its own rules.

It’s not necessary for you to believe in those rules for the criticism to be valid.  A friend of mine, who frankly has no interest in the Constitution beyond the bludgeons of the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, has no problem pointing out (sometimes fallaciously) where this or that Republican isn’t much of an originalist. The criticism has two purposes – it dispirits Republicans who have to compromise from time to time, and it advances the subtext that maybe originalism isn’t all that important, after all.

The Democrat coalition has for years consisted substantially of balkanized interest groups, seeking to officially balkanize both American politics and society.  Pointing out that in practice, the political activities of that party does not serve the interests of women (in this case), or other groups, is unlikely to faze the professional victims, but may give their alleged constituents pause to consider.

Indeed, making use of the fact that such a coalition is ultimately a zero-sum game is the surest way to fracture it.  Democrats are especially threatened by prominent conservatives who are either not white or not men.  Even if one believes that the Democrats on the Apportionment Commission were motivated more by the chance to take out leadership than to target prominent Republican women, the fact that so many of the Republican leadership are also women sends a message of its own that Democrats would rather not confront.

Many conservatives are still upset with Rep. Stephens over the state-run Health Insurance Exchanges and her intemperate response to their objections.  Indeed, almost a year on, added information about Obamacare has highlighted and validated just about every one of those objections.  I’m not in Rep. Stephens’s old or new district, and she was personally very supportive of both my runs for office.  But she’s a big girl, and can take of herself.

My worry is that, by a too-vociferous insistence that those on our side not only agree with us, but agree with us for exactly the right reasons, and using exactly the words we would use, we’re going to end up robbing ourselves of effective rhetorical weaponry.  Arguments that work amongst ourselves may not be so successful out in the wide world of independents and thoughtful Democrats.  And arguments that peel away pieces of their coalition may be less persuasive among conservatives.  There’s more than one way to skin an interest group.

Slings and arrows are part of politics and political discourse, even within your own camp.

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Redistricting East

The Omaha World-Herald this morning reports on Nebraska’s redistricting debate, mostly centering around the Omaha district, the only one that could possibly elect a Democrat Congressman:

State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, the main architect of the GOP map, denied that politics played a role, saying he never looked at voter registration numbers. He said his main focus was on keeping the major cities of Sarpy County whole.

His map does that.

State Sen. Heath Mello, a Democrat from South Omaha, said his map tried to maintain as much of the current district as possible. He also said he believes eastern Sarpy County — with its urban feel — has more in common with Omaha.

Mello also denied that he took voter registration numbers into consideration when he drew the map.

“My plan is trying to keep the district looking the same as it is,” Mello said.

The debate is taking place almost entirely in the context of keeping communities of interest whole and similar to the rest of the district they’ll be a part of.  I can even believe that neither senator (welcome to Nebraska’s unicam, where all legislators are senators) looked at the registration numbers, but only because they didn’t have to.  Any politician assigned the task would know which parts of which counties are home ground and which are hostile territory.

The debate on the Democrat side the other night took place almost entirely in terms of “competitiveness,” which as Sen. Lundberg pointed out, really does mean gerrymandering.  The Republicans eventually forced the Democrats to at least acknowledge the presence of other considerations, like communities of interest (or community of interests, if you’re Sen. Carroll), but that was after the Dems had decided to commit legicide on their own bill.

Nebraska is different in that it’s more heavily tilted to one party, and the population centers are fewer in number.  Nevertheless, the Dems would love to find a way to capture CD-2 if they could, and Nebraska’s electoral votes are also based on how congressional districts vote, so it’s not as though nobody cares.

Redistricting, to adapt a phrase from Milton Friedman, is everywhere, at all times, a partisan process.  But there’s no reason that the parties can’t at least deal with how the districts will affect policy, rather than just elections.

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So the Colorado Republicans have produced a compromise map in an effort to avoid a crapshoot showdown in the courts.  Given that there are a fair number of Republican-appointed judges out there now – not the case in 2001 – the chances of winning are perhaps higher.  But you essentially give up control over the process when you send it to litigation, and politicians would always rather negotiate solution than have one imposed.

The Republican map tweaks things a little here and there from their original map, but it still looks pretty much like the current set of districts.  It adheres to constitutional and statutory principles for districts (keeping together communities of interest, Denver, the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains), it assumes that various parts of the state will have the chance to elect representative who actually live there.

The Democrat map, of course, does none of these things.  Competitiveness is a goal I actually agree with, but by law, it can’t override those existing requirements.  Moreover, as has been pointed out, portions of every district in the state would lie within sight of DIA.  If you thought that Denver thought the rest of the state was in orbit around it before, well, a fortieri.

Unfortunately, the map’s politics, in the battle for public opinion, will get a boost from Colorado’s geography.  (That the Denver Post will be giving it a helping hand goes without saying.)

A few weeks ago, there was an article online (which I can’t find any more) that talked about do-it-yourself redistricting software.  One group of New York Democrats had fun trying to figure out a way to get a state full of Democrat-majority or -plurality districts.  They were able to do it by essentially carving the state up into ribbons, with every district getting a little piece of the Democrat-heavy New York City & Suburbs, enough to wipe out or neutralize the Republican-friendly upstate areas.  If “gerrymander” comes from “salamander,” this was a whole maelstrom of ’em.  You couldn’t push through a map like that, and nobody was really interested in trying.

The Colorado Democrats’ map just doesn’t look that threatening.  Denver is located closer to the middle of the state than NYC is.  We don’t have 30+ representatives, we have 7.  And since the one rule the Democrats obeyed – by coincidence, no doubt – was to keep Denver intact, they only had to get 6 districts to work out.  The result is something that, while radical surgery compared to what we had before, doesn’t look all that bad if you’re starting out fresh.  In the game of “let’s see how much we can get away with,” this much have come as a delightful surprise.

So in what’s left of negotiations (and there’s always room for a special legislative session; earn that $30,000, guys), and what may come down to a court battle, the Republicans have that to overcome.  They need to continue to pound away that while you might not think Grand Junction has much in common with Pueblo, it’s got more in common with it than it does with Boulder.  They need to remind people that while DIA is a world-class airport, keeping the ATC guys awake by letting them play “how many Congressional districts can we see today?” from the tower isn’t actually a statutory requirement.

I agree with some others that the Rs look more statesmanlike in presenting a compromise map.  They also have the luxury of being able to compromise.  It’s not clear that the Dems’ maps can actually change that much without the whole plan falling apart.  Now they need to keep at it, and not  buckle under the pressure to meet an artificial deadline.

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