March 02, 2005
Georgia to follow Texas' lead

In case you hadn't heard, the state of Georgia, whose three branches of state government are newly under all-Republican control, are planning to re-redistrict in time for the 2006 elections. MyDD and Ed Kilgore have the details, with Kilgore noting that the new lines may not disfavor the two targeted Democrats (John Barrow and Jim Marshall) as much as originally feared, possibly because of rumbled Democratic reprisals in Illinois and elsewhere.

I will stipulate that Georgia's current districts, drawn as Constitutionally required by Democrats in 2001, are butt-ugly and serve a primarily partisan purpose (though since the especially ugly CD11 was drawn to make life hard for Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, it was an ultimately unsuccessful purpose). But unlike Texas, where the many minions of Tom DeLay had the fig leaf of judicially-drawn lines as justification for revisiting the issue in 2003 (despite their welcoming of judicial fiat in 2001), the Georgia boundaries were duly drawn and ratified by the Lege and Governor. The only reason to redraw, and it's the reason they've given, is because the Republicans are in charge now and there's no one to stop them. It's power serving its own purpose, and it's far from the only or most egregious example of late.

Which brings me to this LA Times article, in which the Democrats of California have put forth a compromise to Governor Ah-nold's proposal to hand the process over to an impartial third party: Fine, but not until the next mandated redraw in 2011. If he goes for that, then maybe I can shake the feeling that he was just offering a sucker's deal all along. I'd feel even better about it if he held up the Georgia power grab as a prime example of why legislators shouldn't be doing this work, or the Texas debacle before it, but I'd settle for that. I'm not holding my breath on either count, though:

Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman said the governor wants new lines drawn "as soon as possible."

"If 2008 is as soon as possible, then that's great," he said, "but we'll strive for 2006."

If 2008 is more achievable, "why are we spending all this money when in two years you're going to go through this process again [when the 2010 census is taken]?" asked Kathay Feng, voting rights director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

Good question, Kathay. She is about to take over leadership in Common Cause, which has endorsed the Governator's plan, so this isn't just carping.

(UPDATE: Oops, forgot to notice the first time around that Kathay is wrong when she says "you're going to go through this process again" in two years if you do it for the 2008 elections. Everybody will be redistricting again for the 2012 elections, since that's the first one after the 2010 Census, not the 2010 elections. Her point is still valid, though.)

The article notes that a re-ruling from the federal court on the Texas lawsuit is expected soon, so look for more of this in the news. Georgia map link via PerryVsWorld, LAT link via Lasso.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 02, 2005 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Today's CongressDaily is reporting that Hoyer getting ready to step to the plate on Democratic redistricting in other states.

I am not a fan of mid-decade redistricting (it hurts when you work for a targeted person! :) ) but I have taken cynical comfort in the fact that at least the Democrats are recognizing the current "rules of the road" while the R's are in power. Taking their stick away and beating them about the head and neck with it may be the only way to stop this.

California redistricting may end up helping Democrats more than it hurts them by making several seats available for Democratic gain.

I still say these things should be in the hands of independent commissions. The lines are not drawn for our benefit, and we should take the crayons away from the kids if they can't behave.

Posted by: Derrick Crowe on March 2, 2005 8:02 AM

Kuff, were you thinking of me when you wrote your "fig leaf" comment? :-)

In 2001, the Governor could have called endless special sessions without ever being able to pass a redistricting plan through the Legislature. You and others pilloried him for calling a mere three special sessions the last go-around; some on your side argued that these special sessions were taking bread out of the mouths of starving orphans, etc.

But I know that you know that both the federal and state constitutions envision that redistricting is to be done by the state legislatures. It's their responsibility, and it's their duty. Punting until after the 2002 elections (which resolved the stalemate) isn't the same as agreeing that federal court-ordered redistricting is legitimate or adequate.

There's a principled distinction, firmly rooted in constitutional law and historic practice, between redistricting done by federal courts and redistricting done by state legislatures. It's all about democracy. And I commend you for recognizing that much, even if I think you've wrongly minimized its importance by calling it a "fig leaf."

But you and I do continue to agree that as a matter of political comity, it's a bad idea to unleash the hyperpartisan genie from its bottle to redraw a legislatively passed map more than once each decade. It's not that it's illegal; rather, it's that it's a bad idea simply because of the blood it leaves on the carpet and the motivation for revenge it will spawn. I haven't looked at the Georgia situation, but assuming your factual recap is accurate, you can mark me in the "disapprove" column along with you.

If the Georgia Republicans are emboldened to pull a power play, though, some of the blame may rest on Texas Democrats and their national supporters from 2003. The whole "twice in a decade" meme used in Texas (and nationwide by Democratic critics of what was happening in Texas) was grossly misleading precisely because it ignored the distinction between court-ordered redistricting and legislatively accomplished redistricting. So it's not that big a surprise if the (inaccurate) message received and understood from the Texas experience by folks in Georgia was "Twice in a decade is indeed okay." Or stated slightly another way, having failed to keep straight — indeed, having deliberately and cynically blurred — the very important distinction between court-ordered and legislatively drawn redistricting in Texas, the Dems now have credibility problems arguing in Georgia that the existing map there should be respected precisely because it was drawn by that state's legislature rather than a federal court panel.

Again, I don't blame you for any part of the problem. To the contrary, I commend you as one of the few articulate voices from the left of center in the Texas blogosphere who genuinely understands the basic civics involved here, and who never let partisan sympathies carry you into misleading statements. But there were a lot of folks on your side back in the summer and fall of 2003 who understand the basics just as clearly as you do, and yet were very eager to mislead rather than educate the public. In Georgia, your party may now be reaping what it sowed.

Posted by: Beldar on March 2, 2005 11:45 PM

Shorter Beldar: Congressional redistricting solely for partisan gain = democratic. Congressional redistricting by a body, such as a court, with some institutional commitment to fairness and independence from partisanship = undemocratic. Yes, I'm sure Texans elected a GOP Lege because they wanted to be deprived of meaningful Congressional election contests.

IIRC, Georgia is one of the states whose districts were thrown out by the Supremes on grounds of "racial gerrymandering" back in the early 90's. And it was a GOP-friendly redistricting plan, which had helped move Georgia to 8R-3D, that was tossed.

I never bought into the Supremes' reasoning, but at least I was consoled by the fact that the new district plan, which significantly diluted the ability of black voters to elect their desired candidates, were more competitive overall for Democrats.

Now it sounds like the Rethuglicans want to go back to the 8R-3D lines (adjusted for the intervening censi, of course). The Supremes opened up a loophole in Shaw v. Reno (I think) where if they draw the district lines based on political affiliation, not race, it's OK. (Since those lines are largely identical, the Supremes' reasoning seems more obtuse than ever, but I digress.)

Illinois has a state constitutional provision against mid-decade redistricting, but if this Bushit keeps up, I'm sure they'll be amending their constitution as soon as feasible. And if Rethugs lose the CA or NY governorships next year, watch out!

Payback's a bitch, Beldar.

Posted by: Mathwiz on March 3, 2005 4:31 PM

Mathwiz, please don't put words in my mouth.

Redistricting is political. It is partisan. It always has been; it was when Martin Frost gerrymandered the bloody hell out of the Republicans in the 1990s, and it was when Tom DeLay did it to the Dems in 2003. It is bloody and nasty and makes for hard feelings. One of the points of my post -- which you completely ignored -- is that it's unwise for a democratically elected majority to use its raw power without restraint.

But redistricting is democratic, when done by, or under the authority of, an elected legislature. If the voters disapprove, they can fix the problem at the ballot box.

If you have the impression that federal courts redrawing districts under the Voting Rights Act have an "institutional commitment to fairness and independence from partisanship," then you've never read either the Voting Rights Act or any decision of a three-judge panel convened under it. It's hugely misleading to conflate redistricting by federal courts to redistricting done by an at-least-supposedly nonpartisan commission. The latter is using power delegated by a legislature; it's still democratic, but presumably more transparent and somewhat more mannered, at least in theory. The former is an emergency remedial stop-gap, implemented reluctantly and ham-handedly by the least accountable, least democratic branch of government, solely to address violations of the Constitution and Voting Rights Act -- without even any pretense of representing "the will of the people" as expressed through their ballots.

Last thought: When you write a sentence like, "Yes, I'm sure Texans elected a GOP Lege because they wanted to be deprived of meaningful Congressional election contests," can you not see the contempt for the voting public that drips from such a line? I'll grant you that breaking the redistricting logjam wasn't on the radar screens of very many voters in 2002. But putting the levers of political power more firmly into the hands of the party they trusted more definitely was. Unless and until the Democratic Party stops blaming the voters -- and instead starts asking itself "Why aren't they voting for us?" -- it's doomed to impotence, choking on its own bitter spin, muttering about "payback ... someday."

Posted by: Beldar on March 4, 2005 8:43 AM