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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