January 12, 2004
Sunday redistricting stories

I don't have a whole lot of faith that the Supreme Court is going to offer any relief to the losing plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the new Congressional map, but this Statesman article suggests a way it could happen.

The court is already considering a Pennsylvania case challenging the partisanship of redistricting in that state. An appeal from Texas could be bundled with the Pennsylvania case if the high court wants to write new limits on partisanship.

Texas lawmakers' creation of a new map when a legal plan -- drawn by three federal judges after the Legislature failed to draw a map in 2001 -- was already in place might add weight to the argument, [Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania] said.

Challengers argue that allowing lawmakers to redistrict at will, instead of just once every 10 years, opens the door to chaos for voters. However, that argument went nowhere with the three-judge panel.

"There is no question that the set of facts in the Texas case is more hospitable (than the Pennsylvania case) to those who would like the courts to intervene to rein in partisan gerrymandering," Persily said.

Larry Sager, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas, said he thinks the court will feel forced to step in and set ground rules for how often lawmakers can redistrict and how partisan maps can be.

"Does the sound functioning of democracy place restraints on the manipulation of voting districts?" Sager asked. "That question is just beginning to come to the fore because of the extreme behavior in the state of Texas. I think eventually the (Supreme) court will be provoked into putting the brakes on this process."

The second front where the high court might choose to weigh in, experts said, concerns the legal standing of "influence districts," where minority voters may not make up a mathematical majority of the vote but are influential enough to influence elections.

Whether, or how much, such districts must be protected is unclear in light of recent Supreme Court rulings.

That Pennsylvania case is of course Vieth v. Jubelirir, which I've mentioned before. Background on it can be found here, here, and here. Seems like a longshot, but it's not as if there are any better options at this point.

Over in the Chron, the long term effects of the new map are studied.

When combined with the state legislative redistricting plans adopted in 2001, the new congressional map gives the Republicans a stranglehold on congressional and legislative majorities that Democrats will be unlikely to break before 2011 at the earliest.

Few races will be competitive in the general election, according to testimony in the redistricting trial. Whoever wins the Democratic or Republican primaries in the 32 districts likely will become a member of Congress. The lines are drawn to strengthen areas of Republican voting and weaken Democratic areas.

That Republican lock on higher offices will make it difficult for Democrats to build a farm club of potential candidates among the ambitious politicians holding local office.

And more than a million African Americans and Hispanics, who vote heavily Democratic, now will live in districts dominated by Republicans.

Minority group leaders say this will drive down minority voter turnout at a time when Democrats are counting on Hispanic population growth to spur a party comeback.

Additionally, by targeting Frost for defeat, the Republicans are hoping to cut off one of the state's top national money raisers.

In the past several elections, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that Frost once headed has put about $4.5 million into Democratic voter turnout operations. That turnout machine helps state candidates as well as federal candidates.

The good news is that this may turn out to be a relatively short-lived victory for the GOP, according to one of its own experts.

Rice University political scientist John Alford served as an expert consultant for state Republicans on redistricting in 2001 and as an expert for the Texas Democratic congressional delegation last year. He said voting trends in Texas made it clear that Republicans deserved a redistricting victory.

"The Republicans should have a majority of the congressional delegation," Alford said. "It's not a fluke. The Republicans have won every statewide office."

But Alford said the Republican leadership's decision to build an extreme gerrymander will hurt the party in the future.

"In the next 10 years, the real story is going to be not what happened to the Democrats in Texas, but what happened to the Republicans," Alford said.

He said the first effect of the congressional map was not only to defeat Democrats but also to push moderates like state Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, out of the party. Alford said the congressional map was drawn to ignore rural and swing voters so that suburban social conservative Republicans will be elected.

"It wasn't just about getting Republican seats. It was about getting a certain kind of Republican seats," Alford said.

Alford said there also was an important shift in the Republican leadership's approach to congressional redistricting last year.

Alford said GOP leaders initially tried to win support from Hispanic and African American lawmakers with promises to increase minority representation in exchange for 20 solid Republican seats. He said when the political decision was made to go for 22 seats, it ended any attempt at coalition building.

The only way to get 22 Republican seats, Alford said, was to draw a map that limited minorities. It also had the effect of creating a congressional delegation that likely will be mostly Anglo Republicans and African American and Hispanic Democrats.

Alford said most Republicans just wanted partisan gain but "there is a small element in the Republican Party who believe in a cynical way that if you eliminate the Anglo representatives you will marginalize the Democratic Party."

He said that could backfire on Republicans in the next decade as the Hispanic population grows.

"The danger is that if you marginalize a party by making it a party of minorities in a region where minorities are becoming the majority, it's a pyrrhic victory," Alford said.

Alford touches on something that's been on my mind lately, which is that for all the bloviating I've read about the national Democrats surging leftward, no one seems to note how monolithically conservative the GOP has become. There are still plenty of examples of conservative Democrats in Congress and in statehouses around the country. How many liberal Republicans can you name? Hell, how many moderate Republicans are there in Congress? Somehow, this doesn't seem to get as much attention.

Finally, it's not online yet, but the January issue of The Atlantic, in addition to having all sorts of juicy Iraq-invasion-screwup stuff, has a brief article about the mathematics of redistricting. I'll link to it once I can find it.

UPDATE: Tangential to my latter point about monolithicness (if that's not a word, it should be), Greg critiques an op-ed about Charlie Stenholm, as prime an example as one can find of a conservative Democrat. I agree with Greg - Stenholm hasn't changed, but both parties around him have.

Not at all on point but irresistable to me anyway is this blurb from that op-ed piece.

The 17th Congressional District is a textbook example of rural and small-town conservative West Texas. Its makeup is 85 percent Anglo, 4 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic.

Gotta love fuzzy math. I've heard of giving 110% before, but this is ridiculous. Get me rewrite!

UPDATE: Here's one I missed from the Express News. It contains more quotes from the same experts as in the Statesman article, though this time they're asked the question "how likely is it that SCOTUS will grant an injunction against the new map pending its last appeal?" (answer: not bloody likely). It also contains this choice bit:

But while most said they are doing to Democrats only what Democrats have done to them for the past half century, at least one longtime member of the GOP says his party went too far.

"Yes, there is no question at all. Of course we overreached," San Antonio Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth said.

"Just do the math: 56 percent of the vote translates into an 18-14 Republican majority, not a 22-10 majority," Wentworth said. "Unfortunately, this just proves a reality of political human nature: Grab as much as you can, while you can. That's wrong. I don't approve of that."

For a decade, Wentworth has unsuccessfully pushed for the creation of a bipartisan citizens redistricting commission aimed at taking most of the bitter political infighting out of redistricting.

"Having competitive races means the voter, the taxpayer, wins, because competition will bring out the best caliber candidate," Wentworth argued. "Without that competition, the majority party can just say, 'To hell with the independents and the minority party.' That is both a dangerous and unfortunate nationwide trend that is not good for democracy."

Mighty big of you to say so now, Jeff. I'm just in awe of your courage.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 12, 2004 to Killer D's | TrackBack