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Fixing Gerrymandering Could Fix Congress

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Fixing Gerrymandering Could Fix Congress

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Speaker of the House John Boehner addresses the members of the 114th Congress after being re-elected as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the start of the 114th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Hedrick Smith, The Sacramento Bee (TNS)

So far the Republican leadership in the House has found no way to quell or mollify the right-wing rebellion of the “Shutdown Caucus” that toppled a speaker and still roils Congress. But citizen reformers may have stumbled on the way out: Fix gerrymandering.

While media has focused on the demands of the rebel group to weaken the House leadership still further, it has missed a crucial piece of breaking news. Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, the candidate for House Speaker endorsed by the rebel faction, has just seen his congressional district cut out from under him by a Florida court ruling against Republican gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering? Mention it and most of the current generation of political reporters roll their eyes, dismissing it as an age-old and therefore irrelevant political malady.

But they are missing a central point: One root cause of the mutiny that ousted Speaker John Boehner and blocked House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy is the Great Republican Gerrymander of 2011, which helped elect and now protects the 45 ideological insurgents in the House.

Their congressional districts were engineered so starkly in their favor that in the 2014 mid-term elections, they beat their Democratic opponents by an average 38 percentage points, a staggering margin. Only two had competitive General Election races. Three had districts with such a lock for the Republican nominee that no Democrat even bothered to run.

Those protected monopolies back home give the Republican rebels a rare kind of political immunity. They can overthrow a Speaker or bring Congress to a halt without fear of retribution from either the party leadership or the voters. Partisan gerrymandering and party primaries with shockingly low turnouts, mainly of party loyalists and extremist voters, virtually guarantee their re-election, even if their brinksmanship offends the majority of American voters.

Forty of the rebel band, mostly organized now in the Freedom Caucus, come from GOP-gerrymandered states. All but one or two are very junior members of Congress, from the tea party class of 2010 and from the “RedMap” classes of 2012 and 2014.

“RedMap” is the code name that Republican Party leaders gave to their secret nationwide campaign to dominate the once-a-decade redistricting process in 2011 by capturing majority control of as many state legislatures as possible in the 2010 election.

RedMap was inspired by Karl Rove, the GOP campaign guru, who opined pragmatically, “He who controls redistricting can control Congress.” Adopting the Rove formula, the GOP invested $30 million in legislative races, largely unnoticed by the national Democratic Party, and scored sweeping gains. Nationwide, Republicans picked up 675 legislative seats, gaining control of legislatures in states that held 40 percent of all House seats, versus Democrats, with only 10 percent. (The rest were under split control.)

That set up gerrymandering on an unprecedented scale. Never before had any party implemented gerrymandering as a national strategy. And never before had party tacticians and consultants been armed with 21st century computer software, enabling them to carve up districts with such precision — down to the individual street and house.

The payoff was immediate and palpable. As the RedMap team later bragged, the GOP lost the presidency and the Senate in 2012 and lost the nationwide popular vote for the House, but nevertheless came out with a 33-seat majority in the House.

The key, RedMap’s architects trumpeted, was GOP gerrymandering in pivotal states such as Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

But there was a catch. The Republicans were about to be hoisted on their own petard. The Great Gerrymander of 2011 that helped cement the party’s House majority also embedded the rump faction of anti-government extremists that toppled Boehner and now faces whoever becomes his successor.

It will take more than a change of faces in the House leadership to resolve this stalemate. Fundamental political reforms are needed, and they need to come from outside Washington — at the state level.

California offers a roadmap, with its independent redistricting commission. But Florida offers a second model. And Florida is a vital testing ground because its Republican gerrymandering in 2010 produced six of today’s House rebels, more than any other state, and its gerrymander system has been challenged by a citizen reformers.

In 2010, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other civic groups enlisted enough public support to put on the ballot and then pass a statewide referendum barring partisan gerrymandering “with the intent to favor or disfavor” either political party or to protect incumbents. When the Republican-dominated legislature ignored that mandate, citizens groups filed suit.

This summer, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Republican gerrymander of 2011 was blatantly partisan and unconstitutional. It ordered the legislature to redraw eight of the state’s congressional districts. Just a week ago, a circuit court in Florida rejected the legislature’s new maps as inadequate and adopted some proposals from citizens groups. Now, the court-approved maps threaten to scramble several Florida districts and unseat at least three incumbents, including the rebel choice for speaker, Webster.

In all, moves against gerrymandering are under way in more than 20 states. California and Arizona have set up independent citizen commissions to do redistricting. Seven more states have set up bipartisan commissions, some led by nonpartisan chairs.

Action is under way elsewhere. In seven states, including Florida, gerrymandering has been challenged in the courts, and in yet another six states, either political leaders or citizen groups have mounted efforts to modify traditional gerrymandering or throw it out entirely.

For the nation as a whole, the question is whether the continuing turmoil in the House and shock over Boehner’s downfall will generate enough popular momentum to alter the partisan bias long built into American elections by both parties. Otherwise, chances are, the House will continue to be crippled by a gerrymander-protected minority.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Hedrick Smith is a former Washington Bureau Chief of The New York Times and executive editor of the informational reform website reclaimtheamericandream.org. He wrote this for The Sacramento Bee.

Photo: Speaker of the House John Boehner addresses the members of the 114th Congress after being re-elected as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the start of the 114th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

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48 Comments

  1. 1standlastword October 18, 2015

    Now this is how we the majority “take-our-country-back” –one state at a time–from the rebel insurrectionists that surreptitiously infiltrated it and at the same time undermined our free, fair and open election process

    Reply
    1. pjm19606 October 21, 2015

      But our system is NOT fair, especially when either SCOTUS or the Electoral College (or BOTH) can usurp the popular vote.

      Reply
  2. pjm19606 October 18, 2015

    The whole issue of “gerrymandering” shouldn’t even exist. Why the hell should Congressional districts be altered in ANY case? I CAN’T just pick up and move at will. Fix the damned districts once and for all. That’s Democracy. This will make constituents REALLY fight for their districts. Americans are STUPID!

    Reply
    1. latebloomingrandma October 19, 2015

      Gerrymandering actually sounds unConstitutional. Maybe some hotshot lawyer looking to make a name for herself can pick up the mantle and go with it. Take it to the Supremes.

      Reply
      1. Tom S October 21, 2015

        These Supremes??
        Maybe Diana and those Supremes …

        Reply
    2. Tom S October 21, 2015

      It is because our post-Revolutionary Founders didn’t eliminate the concept of Colonies and perpetuated Colony’s Rights.
      The Nation needs to dump the concept of States in favor of Regional Administrative Districts.

      States have had no reason for existence since the CRA, VRA, Interstate System and the Boeing 707.

      Reply
      1. pjm19606 October 21, 2015

        Let’s go a step further: A national computer into which ALL issues facing the people at the national, state and local level are placed to be voted on by the people via their portable devices. Simple. We are already there. And don’t start with the hacking issues. Like any obstacle, this will have to be overcome. We first require the desire to do it.

        Reply
        1. Tom S October 21, 2015

          However, that would transform our Republic into a Democracy (similar to Athens), which would require throwing out our Constitution and writing a new one.
          I am certainly not opposed to that, but can you imagine the decades long squawking that would ensue??
          You’ve seen what has transpired over implementing the Republican policy initiative for 40+ years, now known as “ObamaCares”. And, this occurred with 75% of the population wanting Universal, Single-Payer Healthcare – just like every other Industrialized Nation has!!
          Think of what you’re advocating here, pjm … Democracy! The last step before Communism! (LOL).

          Reply
          1. pjm19606 October 21, 2015

            Absolutely! ROTFLMIAO!

            Reply
  3. meridaest October 18, 2015

    This is by far the best solution available. Greater Republican representation in Maryland and California…greater Democratic representation in Florida and Michigan. Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Tom S October 21, 2015

      Excellent observation of a possible Result you didn’t Hope for.
      However, in CA, the State was re-districted by a Citizens panel … plus, except in some feudal strongholds, CA Republicans are now an Endangered Species.

      Reply
      1. pjm19606 October 21, 2015

        See? It Works! Democracy actually WORKS!

        Reply
  4. @HawaiianTater October 18, 2015

    When one side wins the popular vote but the other side gains the majority of the seats, the system is broken. This is one of those situations where things have to get much worse before they can get much better. The Freedom Caucus doesn’t realize it but they are only hastening the demise of the GOP. They are not only making the public incredibly pissed off at the GOP for a dysfunctional Congress, they are also exposing the dirty gerrymandering tricks that put them in this position to begin with. The only question is how much damage they will be able to accomplish before they are ousted.

    Reply
    1. Insinnergy October 18, 2015

      Well said.

      Reply
      1. pjm19606 October 20, 2015

        “Representative Democracy” has ALWAYS been an OXYMORON. Gerrymandering directly contradicts democratic principles. If a district is majority one party and you want to move there, fine. But don’t reassign MY district.

        Reply
    2. Dominick Vila October 19, 2015

      I agree. Unfortunately, it is going to be a very long time before voters in the South and the Bible Belt understand the long term damage they are inflicting, not only on our political process, but on our democracy and freedom. For most of them, imposing their socio-economic and spiritual views on everyone, regardless of how the most Americans prefer or want, is a crusade. A patriotic obligation, and the only way to achieve their goals. The thought that what they are doing and proposing is akin to totalitarianism means absolutely nothing to them.
      Gerrymandering will continue to be an integral part of American politics for many years to come. At least in some parts of the USA.

      Reply
      1. @HawaiianTater October 19, 2015

        Can we just go ahead and let the South secede already? Let all the conservatives have their own country. Let all the liberals have their own country. Build a giant Trumpian wall in between the two. Then let’s see how things play out from there. When their economy crashes and they are left with only two classes, the rich and the dirt poor, and the people want to rejoin the rest of us, tell them too bad so sad.

        Ah well… a man can dream.

        Reply
        1. Dominick Vila October 19, 2015

          The only reason their economy has not collapsed is because of their Right to Work For Less laws…and their dependence on government handouts.
          BTW, who is going to pay for the Trumpian wall? I think we should make the South pay for it…:-)

          Reply
          1. @HawaiianTater October 19, 2015

            Honestly, I think our side should pay for it. I would consider it a worthy investment. We’d easily make the money back without conservative policies putting such a drag on our economy.

            Reply
          2. Dominick Vila October 19, 2015

            Savings realized from the interest on the Federal government handouts that help Southern and Bible Belt state put food on the table will probably cover the cost the Wall.

            Reply
          3. @HawaiianTater October 19, 2015

            Here’s a graphic that will help paint a more accurate picture of the Bible Belt. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3b78b624d1cb1818d3785cf54088b3b64af2bb3c0c17b70cd4cc65f1e81cc160.jpg

            Reply
          4. pjm19606 October 20, 2015

            How about the “Redneck and Lovin’ It” Belt.

            Reply
          5. Tom S October 21, 2015

            The Red does not extend far enough North. There is a saying in the Midwest that the dividing line is US 40, “The National Highway”.

            I am sure it is not lost on y’all that what this blob represents is the Confederacy. The diehards never surrendered. And, currently, they are winning… Time for Appomattox II.

            Reply
          6. @HawaiianTater October 21, 2015

            That is very true. It’s been a century and a half and the South still thinks they are fighting the Civil War against the evil oppressive North. They have even gone so far as to convince themselves that the Civil War was about state’s rights and not slavery. It’s pure insanity.

            Reply
          7. Tom S October 21, 2015

            California, under Jerry Brown Acts III & IV and the Democrats of the CA Legislature, are Proof of your argument.
            Without Rpublican Obstructionism, they have managed to restore CA to #8 among World Economies. Plus they are on track to move into #7, if not #6, position by the end of this year.

            When the Best Coast is taken as a whole, OR, WA and HI, would probably rank as the #3 World Economy. Plus, we’re so close to capturing AK!

            Reply
          8. @HawaiianTater October 21, 2015

            As someone who lives in Hawai’i, I can tell you that we certainly have our fair share of problems. We’re not run as well as we could be. That said, at least we’re a deep blue state on every level. There might be one or two Republicans tops in elected office here. No matter how bad it might get at times, it’s still not as bad as it would be with the GOP in charge.

            Reply
        2. Daniel Jones October 19, 2015

          Please don’t. As a sane man who’d be stuck with these Yahoos, I implore you to not leave them their own way.

          Reply
          1. @HawaiianTater October 19, 2015

            I propose that we allow a migration period. Say, 6 months? A year? However long it takes to build the wall? We let all the conservatives to move to their new country and all the liberals to leave that area. Once the wall is built and the migration period is over then the borders are sealed. Since we’re allowing people time to pick their side, there is no reason for visitation of the other country whatsoever. No visas. No tourists. No nothing. You pick your country and you stay there. I’ve even got a name for the new country! We can call it Conservative United Nationals of The South. As in the USA, the of is silent, if ya know what I mean.

            Reply
        3. idamag October 19, 2015

          It would be a much better country without them.

          Reply
          1. @HawaiianTater October 19, 2015

            Never a truer statement.

            Reply
        4. RED October 19, 2015

          Sadly, were that to happen, I would likely be stuck!!! I have strong family ties in the South and it would be difficult to leave although my faith would be completely in the North. I’ve considered fleeing the South many times. But sadly most of the places where a more progressive and just thinking exists are cold climates. Only California could possibly be suitable climate and even there is quesionable. May sound crazy to people who have lived in the North all their lives but some us are just not prepared or possibly even capable of living in these colder climates. But I guess if the right wing nut jobs get their way, all bets are off on our future climate and we’ll just have to rely on “Jeebus” and his con artist minions for the forecast.

          Reply
          1. @HawaiianTater October 19, 2015

            I was born and raised in Alabama. I spent 20+ years of my life there and most of my family still lives there. They are all hardcore Southern Baptist conservative Republicans. I am pretty much the opposite. I too share your hatred of winter. I found this amazing place that is run entirely by Democrats. It’s a deep blue state, very liberal and progressive, and it ain’t cold either! Wanna take a guess at where this glorious state might be located?

            For the record: I have not set foot in Alabama or been anywhere near The South in over a decade. I don’t plan on going back either.

            Reply
          2. RED October 19, 2015

            Interesting, HT. Can I ask you what part of Alabama? And what lead you to Hawaii?

            Reply
          3. @HawaiianTater October 19, 2015

            Anniston/Oxford. I moved to Hawai’i for a few million reasons but the top two are winter sucks and to be as far away from Alabama as possible.

            Reply
    3. Tom S October 21, 2015

      Don’t omit the ‘dysfunctional’ States. Indiana’s GNOP and areligious Zealots POed most of the State’s Republicans, Democrats and Indies with RFRA. In many communities, Real Republicans led the charge to extend ‘equal protection’ to the LGBT community. That Law was toned down a mite – just enough to remove the Heat from the Frying Pan, yet, the Law still is on the books and Indiana’s Village-Idiot-in-Chief, Mike Pence, is playing slow down basketball hoping the Public loses interest in the topic.

      Meanwhile, Pence and his State Legislature minions Cost the State several $Billion$ in lost Income and, worse, ID’ed the former home of the KKK as still harboring the Dark Side.

      Reply
  5. Insinnergy October 18, 2015

    There are apparently several very non-partisan algorithms that have now been applied to redistricting in Florida and work perfectly well, and favour no-one.

    You cannot argue that the openly verifiable maths has a liberal (or conservative) bias.

    Reply
  6. bcarreiro October 18, 2015

    A three ring circus … checks and balances has another meaning.

    Reply
  7. rednekokie October 19, 2015

    It’s about time! When the fox guards the henhouse, as the republican party has done with redistricting, (and the democrats did as well, when they were the fox) the populice has no say in their representatives.
    All districts should be decided by non partisan committees, and each district laid out with the shortest possible perimeter.

    Reply
    1. Tom S October 21, 2015

      As is the case in California. Or into non-partisan Legislatures as in Nebraska, or in process in South Dakota.

      Reply
  8. towercam October 19, 2015

    BS on the claim that gerrymandering can solve our problems with Congress.
    Get real. It’s the repeal of the ‘Citizens United’ ruling that’s going to make a real difference. ‘Citizens United’ effectively allows corporations to buy our politicians.
    That’s unacceptable.
    Gerrymandering too should be done away with, but it’s hardly the chief source of our governmental problems.

    Reply
    1. latebloomingrandma October 19, 2015

      It’s a combination of things. Gerrymandering of districts to favor Republicans was one of the goals of ALEC. There was an overall plan to put the conservative agenda in all over the country. The fact that gerrymandering gained a majority of house seats when Democrats actually garnered more votes is NOT representative democracy. We may be stuck with it until the next census.

      Reply
      1. Tom S October 21, 2015

        We will be stuck with it until WE return Democrats into the Majority in at least 1 House in Every State – and, Hopefully, many of the stolen Governorships … or the GNOP dies out.

        towercam, you do not fully understand our Representative Democracy (Republic). We could get rid of ‘Citizens United’, but that would only make the Presidency, Senate and Governorships a little easier to attain. Until we can turn State Legislatures Blue or Purple, we cannot stop the Kansases, Alabamas, Texases and Indianas from Stupid to Passable, nor turn the House.

        Reply
  9. docb October 19, 2015

    Tea gops will not give up their ONLY ACCOMPLISHMENT!

    Reply
    1. Tom S October 21, 2015

      Oh, they have plenty of accomplishments – just none that are Positive for a major World Power entering the 21st Century.

      Reply
  10. Grover Syck October 20, 2015

    The best answer to this mess is a good DEMOCRATIC president and a strong DEMOCRATIC senate. As 3 of the corporate justices are stairing at death’s door in the next few years, we would be able to fix the court. Then the illegal campaign financing can be thrown out, and gerrymandering can be declared unconstitutional.

    Until that happens, the best we can hope for is state by state action, and piece mill results.
    Biggest problems with the state by state process is it takes time, and once it starts, the republicans will mount a counter offensive to undo it.

    Reply
    1. Tom S October 21, 2015

      No, it will take 50 Good and Smart DEMOCRATIC State Democratic Committees and a DEMOCRATIC (or Honest GNOP) SCOTUS.

      This situation can only be turned around in the State Houses in Blue and Purple Land (and most States are)

      – or by a SCOTUS that reverses Citizens United, Voting Rights Act – and Bush v Gore.

      Reply
  11. Tom S October 21, 2015

    Don’t forget that the Great GNOP Gerrymander was made possible by the cowering absence of National Democrats and Democratic Organizations in the run-up to the Nov 2010 General Election.

    They (the above) cowered in fear following the astro-turf rebellion of fradulent “tea party” town halls instead of hitting back hard with Facts and Reality.

    The Missing Campaign of the Spring / Summer of 2010 would probably have continued had not Alan Grayson, and a couple of other Congressionals, Daily Kos, Dr Dean and a few others not exclaimed in latter August, “WTF”!

    Then, haltingly, the Nationals began to ramp up a TERRIBLE Campaign … it was almost like they were in league with the GNOP.

    Still, despite giving the Great Middle no good reasons to Vote, the “tsunami” was ankle-deep most places. HOWEVER, so few Dems and Indies came out to Vote that the micro-tsunami extended into State Legislatures throughout the Land – which was a far worse outcome than merely losing the House.

    Democrats had the best Arguments and Weapons in 2010, but left them in their quivers. This how the Great GNOP Gerrymander came to be.

    2014 was little better. Who the Hay is developing the National Dem Strategy?? Rupert?

    Reply
    1. CrankyToo October 21, 2015

      What’s that you say? Republicans are scum? Democrats are stupid and cowardly? Who knew?

      Reply

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