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Tag: gerrymandering

Once Again, Gerrymandering Threatens To Throttle Democracy

It's a redistricting year in the blue state of Illinois, which means that Republicans are getting less consideration than a missionary on the Las Vegas Strip. Democrats have been winning in the Land of Lincoln for a long while, controlling the state House for all but two of the past 38 years. But they see no harm in running up the score.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on a vow to take reapportionment away from politicians and turn it over to an independent commission. But that didn't happen, and when the General Assembly sent him district maps that exemplified partisan gerrymandering, he signed them into law.

"Make no mistake, these maps were drawn solely for the Democrats to maintain their political power in the state of Illinois," House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said. Democrats outnumber Republicans 73-45 in the state House, and those numbers are likely to grow more lopsided.

Similar things are going on in New York, where Democrats have plotted new district lines with the goal of cutting the GOP's eight members of Congress to four or even three of the 26 seats the state will have. That's less than 16 percent of the seats in a state where 38 percent of voters went for Donald Trump. New York's Republican Party chair Nick Langworthy said the redistricting "is a political sham built on a foundation of lies and hypocrisy."

Shams are the norm in this process, where lawmakers celebrate the glories of democracy while scheming to make elections an empty formality. Democrats in blue states are more than willing to ignore their good-government allies to cement their control in state legislatures — and to keep Nancy Pelosi in the speaker's chair.

After losing out on Maryland's last congressional map, Republicans took the fight to the Supreme Court, arguing that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. (The court disagreed.) So you might think that Republicans would be determined to put an end to partisan reapportionment. But hypocrisy is a two-way street.

Today, the GOP has control of the governor's office and the legislature in 23 states, compared to 15 such "trifectas" for Democrats. Such dominance is never more valuable than in a redistricting year, giving those in power the chance to supersize their advantage for a full decade.

Political scientists Alex Keena, Michael Latner, Anthony McGann and Charles Anthony Smith wrote in The Washington Post, "We found that, after 2011, 45 state legislative maps had been drawn with extreme partisan gerrymandering. Of these, 43 favor Republicans, while only two help Democrats. Because of these gerrymandered maps, Republicans held onto power after losing the statewide popular vote in Virginia in 2017, and in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2018."

That explains why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has no interest in a Democratic bill that would make it impossible to tilt the playing field. The For the People Act would require states to hand over redistricting to independent commissions. With that reform, incumbents would no longer get to tailor their constituencies to achieve permanent tenure.

It would not prevent either party from winning most legislative or congressional seats in a particular state. Such bodies already draw maps in several states, including Arizona, where the GOP has held a majority in both houses of the legislature since 2003, and California, where Democrats have done the same since 1997.

In most places, the issue is not which party will dominate. It's just by how much.

Besides, no one objects when a party getting a majority of the votes wins a majority of seats. Objections are in order, though, when the party getting a minority of the votes wins a majority of seats. Last year, Democratic candidates for Congress got 43 percent of the votes cast in South Carolina — but only one of the seven House seats, or 14 percent.

A federal solution is needed because at the state level, no party in power wants to cede control of redistricting. Democrats say they can't afford to unilaterally disarm in the battle for power, and Republicans show no interest in mutual renunciation of gerrymandering.

But in the long run, a fairer system would be a good thing for both parties. It would give each more opportunities to compete and more incentive to stay in tune with the preferences of those they represent.

It would be best of all for the voters, many of whom have been effectively rendered powerless. Democracy is supposed to rest on the consent of the governed, not the governors.

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Attacked By Texas Republican, Sen. Markey Silently Drops Crushing Tweet On Him

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Sen. Ed Markey is the Massachusetts Democrat who has continued to move towards the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and the voters have rewarded him, first by defeating the strange Pelosi-supported primary bid by Rep. Joe Kennedy III and then by winning reelection to his Senate seat with a commanding 66.5 percent of the vote.

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Polling Experts Say Democrats Will Keep House Majority -- And May Expand It

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump, during one of his MAGA events in September, predicted that Republicans will retake the U.S. House of Representatives this year. But according to a new analysis by polling expert Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, that possibility is most unlikely. Released on October 7, "FiveThirtyEight's 2020 House of Representatives Election Forecast" says that Democrats have a 92-97 percewnt chance of maintaining their House majority in November — and it is possible that they will even expand it slightly.

FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich explains, "While Democrats are slight favorites to flip the Senate and Joe Biden is a solid-but-not-overwhelming frontrunner for the presidency, Democrats have between a 92 and 97 percent chance of keeping control of the House."

Rakich goes on to say that there are "three versions" of FiveThirtyEight's House model: a "lite version," a "classic version" and a "deluxe version." The "lite version," according to Rakich, "relies primarily on polling" and "gives Democrats a 97 in 100 chance of" keeping their House majority — while the "classic version…. blends polls with fundamentals like partisanship, incumbency advantages and candidates' fundraising" and "gives Democrats a 93 in 100 chance" of doing that. And the "deluxe version," Rakich adds, "incorporates polls, fundamentals and expert ratings from the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato's Crystal Ball" and "gives Democrats a 93 in 100 chance of" maintaining control of the House.

"All three versions more or less agree, though, that Democrats will essentially stand pat in the House or pick up a few extra seats," Rakich explains. "That's an impressive achievement considering the heights they reached in the 2018 midterms, when they scored a 235-199 majority despite a congressional map that favored the GOP."

Rakich doesn't use the word "gerrymandering" in his FiveThirtyEight article, but it's a word that is certainly applicable when it comes to the House. Democrats enjoyed a major blue wave when they retook the House in 2018 and enjoyed a net gain of 40 seats, but many pundits have argued that the blue wave would have been even bigger had the GOP not gerrymandered so many House districts.

How To Defeat Entrenched Interests — And Empower The Democratic Majority

Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect.

Two anxieties are currently driving American politics. On the right, the anxiety is about the demographic and cultural trends favoring Democrats. People of color represent only 21 percent of Americans born before 1946, but they amount to 44 percent of millennials—and, according to a Pew survey, 57 percent of millennials place themselves among liberals, while only 12 percent side with conservatives. Election by election, more liberal voters are coming of age, while more conservatives are dying off.

For decades, the right has been fighting cultural and political change and the demands of women and minorities. Now panic has set in among conservatives as they realize they are losing the future.

That anxiety has fed the obsession with immigration and increasing radicalism on the right—the willingness to support Donald Trump in the first place, and to protect him as president; to suppress the votes of minorities; and to bar the Dreamers and other immigrants from gaining the rights of citizens. Fear of future majorities is what is driving the Republican effort to pack the federal courts with right-wing judges who can be counted on to limit Democrats in office.

The second anxiety driving American politics is a response to the first—a growing anxiety among liberals that the power of the right may get locked in. Conservative power may become entrenched in ways that make it exceptionally difficult for popular majorities to reverse. Control of two governmental institutions in particular, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate, threatens to limit progressive possibilities. As a result, liberals are now thinking about reforms that could help rebalance institutional power.

In the 1990s, many of us were talking about an “emerging Democratic majority.” It isn’t emerging anymore; Democrats already have a national majority. They have won the popular vote for the presidency in six out of the last seven elections, going back to 1992. If not for the Electoral College, the entire history of the past two decades would be different. The Senate is a similar story. In all 15 Senates since 1990, according to calculations by Stanford political scientist Jonathan Rodden, the Democrats have won more votes than the Republicans but controlled the Senate only six times. If majority rule had determined control of both the presidency and the Senate, there would be a liberal majority on the Supreme Court too.

Remember how Republicans in the 1960s claimed to represent a “silent majority”? Democrats today are a stymied majority—and not merely in the House of Representatives. What is really stymieing Democrats is the structure of institutional power in America. Three distinct challenges confront them.

The first is the entrenched power of concentrated wealth, magnified in recent decades by increasing economic inequality.

The second is the aggressive use of political incumbency by Republicans to extend and increase their control through such means as voter suppression.

The third consists of the advantages that Republicans derive from the structure of government institutions at a time when Democratic voters have become concentrated in cities and in the most urbanized states. The geography of partisan support is closely related to America’s racial and cultural divisions, and it has skewed not only the Senate but also the House and state legislatures in Republicans’ favor.

Each of these three distinct sources of conservative power requires a different set of responses.

CHALLENGE #1Rebalancing Power in the Market. Liberals have generally thought about economic and social policies from the standpoint of their first-order effects: whether they help guarantee rights to security and freedom and ensure a widely shared prosperity. In an ideal world, there would be no need to think about the consequences for the distribution of power. In practice, there is.

Fortunately, liberal policies can be dual-purpose, serving both primary interests in rights and well-being and interests in power and political equality. As a recent report of the Roosevelt Institute argues, progressive taxation can serve both as “a deterrent against extraction and wealth hoarding” and as a means of limiting the outsized political sway of the superrich. A revived antitrust policy can reduce “firms’ ability to exploit competitors, consumers, and workers” as well as their ability to manipulate public policy. Empowering workers can enable them to claim a fair share of the economy’s gains and to offset corporate political influence.

The underlying premise here is that policy is necessarily about power, and Republicans have acted more strategically on the basis of that understanding. Democrats haven’t given the same priority to strengthening unions that Republicans have given to weakening them. Even as industries became more concentrated, Democrats paid little attention to antitrust. Changing corporate governance wasn’t even remotely on the public agenda until Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed requiring corporations with more than $1 billion in revenue to obtain a federal charter and take into account the interests not just of shareholders but of all stakeholders, including customers, workers, and local communities. Warren would also give employees 40 percent of the seats on corporate boards and require that political contributions be approved by at least 75 percent of a company’s directors and shareholders.

But since rebalancing private power requires political power, meeting this first challenge takes us to the other two.

CHALLENGE #2Countering the Abuses of Incumbency. Self-enrichment and self-entrenchment are the elementary forms of political corruption, and Trump-era Republicans are doggedly pursuing both. Voter suppression, partisan gerrymanders, the inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 census, and the failure to act on election security after Russia’s interference in 2016 are all aspects of the politics of entrenchment.

Fighting voter suppression today primarily requires its opposite—voter mobilization, beginning with the engagement of a young and diverse generation that is often skeptical and despairing about politics (see Paul Taylor, “The Reluctant Majority,” in this issue). Commitments to sustained, on-the-ground field operations and community organization have become all the more necessary since the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision limited the options for going to court to vindicate voting rights.

Like its decisions on voting rights, the Court’s rulings on campaign finance also offer little encouragement for federal litigation in pursuit of political equality. But reformers have had success at the state level with lawsuits as well as referenda. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court overturned the Republican gerrymander of congressional districts in time for the 2018 election; Michigan voters adopted an independent redistricting commission.

Yet state-based efforts have their limits. After Floridians passed a referendum to restore voting rights to ex-felons, the Republican legislature effectively reversed that decision by requiring ex-felons to pay off fines and fees before regaining their eligibility to vote. Ultimately, there is no substitute for federal power, and that requires confronting not just the machinations of incumbents but the machinery of government that perpetuates Republican power.

CHALLENGE #3Rebalancing the Constitutional System. A sharply increased urban-rural divide in voting now affects the working of America’s representative institutions. The effect on the Senate is obvious since the more rural states are disproportionately white and Republican; the effect on the House and state legislatures is also substantial but needs some explanation. Like Britain and others of its former colonies, the United States uses single-member districts for legislative elections, as opposed to proportional representation. In these elections, Jonathan Rodden shows in his new book Why Cities Lose, political parties whose voters are densely clustered in cities tend to win a smaller share of seats than their share of votes. As it happens, the parties that lose out are all parties of the left.

The Democrats are now in this position, which enables the Republicans to control state legislatures and sometimes the U.S. House even while losing the overall popular vote (as they did in the House after the 2014 election). Proportional representation would correct this bias. But although nothing in the Constitution prohibits proportional representation in House delegations, much less in state legislatures, the idea has received little support or attention. So I concentrate on the Senate, which poses the more immediate threat to majority rule and progressive policies.

Senate elections today are overwhelmingly predicted by a state’s partisan lean. As a result, Thomas Edsall writes (citing political scientist Larry Sabato), Republicans are favored in states with 46 senators, Democrats in states with 40. Republicans therefore need to win only five seats in competitive states to control the Senate, while Democrats need to win eleven. What could even up that competition?

No aspect of American government is more firmly entrenched in the Constitution than the Senate’s distribution of seats: Article V rules out any amendment altering the states’ “equal suffrage” in the Senate. But there is a partial workaround: the admission of new states.

Democrats can justify the admission of two new states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, on the inherent merits. Both are anomalies: jurisdictions with substantial populations of American citizens denied full rights of political representation. Admitting both D.C. and Puerto Rico also has a compensatory rationale: The Senate today grossly underrepresents African Americans and Latinos because they are concentrated in highly urbanized states. According to calculations by Michael Ettlinger, African Americans have three-fourths the voting power of whites in the Senate; Latinos have just two-thirds.

Continued urbanization will likely increase this disparity. By 2040, according to demographic projections, 30 percent of the population will choose 70 percent of the Senate. If that 30 percent were chiefly black and Latino, I have no doubt the constitutional obstacles to changing the Senate could somehow be overcome. But, as things stand, the 30 percent will likely be predominantly white; admitting D.C. and Puerto Rico would help correct that bias.

Although Republicans would complain about the partisan consequences, they set the precedent: From the 1860s to the 1880s, their party carved up sparsely populated western territories into reliably Republican states to give themselves more senators.

Republicans also set the precedent for another workaround, in this case for dealing with the Supreme Court: In the 1860s, they changed the size of the Court three times to ensure Republican control—adding a seat under Abraham Lincoln, shrinking it under Andrew Johnson, then re-expanding it under Ulysses Grant. To be sure, Franklin Roosevelt is supposed to have failed when he tried to expand the Court in 1937—except that the Court then changed course, and the New Deal proceeded.

Increases in the number of states and Supreme Court justices would be examples of “constitutional hardball,” the term coined by Harvard’s Mark Tushnet for measures that are clearly constitutional, though outside recent norms. Democrats would not be thinking about hardball if Republicans had not already begun playing it, as they did when they refused even to hold hearings on Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Court. Contrary to those who worry about violating political norms, Tushnet responds that if the Democrats added two justices to make up for Garland, it would establish a new norm: “You can’t steal a Supreme Court seat and expect to get away with it.”

If, despite the obstacles, Democrats are able to win control of Congress and the White House in 2020, they will have to decide whether to eliminate the Senate filibuster and play hardball. It will be a weighty decision. If they go ahead, the priority should be to admit D.C. and Puerto Rico, which would then make it easier to expand the Supreme Court, though that is better thought of as a last resort if, as in the 1930s, the Court acts in a partisan way to strike down Democratic initiatives.

A new balance in institutional power in both the market and government would only level the playing field, not entrench Democrats. These are all measures—including proportional representation for the House and state legislatures—that would bring the government closer into line with the will of the majority of Americans. And if democracy benefits Democrats, that’s nothing for them to apologize about; rather, it ought to cause Republicans to worry about the course that they have taken. Republicans didn’t have to appeal to xenophobia and white panic; they could have sought to make themselves the party of a rising majority instead of a declining one.

For Democrats, the immediate anti-entrenchment priority is to prevent Trump from gaining a second term when he could increase the Court’s right-wing majority, consolidate control of the executive branch, and use federal investigative and prosecutorial powers to pursue his enemies more aggressively. America’s rising majority has been stymied, but a second term for Trump has even darker possibilities of entrenchment.

IMAGE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and leaders of the Senate Republican caucus.

Paul Starr is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the Bancroft Prize in American history, he is the author of eight books, including Entrenchment: Wealth, Power, and the Constitution of Democratic Societies (Yale University Press, May 2019).

Retired Justice Stevens Says Trump Must ‘Comply’ With Subpoenas

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

When President Gerald R. Ford appointed John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975, it was hailed as a victory for conservatism: Stevens replaced Justice William O. Douglas, an unapologetically liberal Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominee who had been on the High Court since 1939. Yet even though he was a conservative and Democrats controlled the U.S. Senate in 1975, Stevens was confirmed unanimously; not one Democratic senator voted against his confirmation. And the 99-year-old Stevens, who retired in 2010 and was replaced by Barack Obama appointee Elena Kagan, reflected on the current state of the Supreme Court and U.S. politics in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin.

President Donald Trump is vowing to resist all subpoenas issued by investigative committees in the Democrat-led House of Representatives—and Stevens believes that Trump is overreaching.

“I think there are things we should be concerned about, there’s no doubt about that,” Stevens tells Bravin in his article. And he goes on to elaborate, “The president is exercising powers that do not really belong to him. I mean, he has to comply with subpoenas and things like that.”

When Bravin asked Stevens how the Supreme Court might—in light of the fact that it now includes two Trump appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch—rule on the current conflict between Democratic House committees and the Trump Administration, Stevens responded, “I wouldn’t want to predict that anybody’s going to take the incorrect view. But certainly, the correct view is pretty clear.”

One of the most revealing parts of Bravin’s interview with Stevens is the former justice’s views on political gerrymandering. Republicans are often criticized by Democrats in 2019 for gerrymandering congressional districts, and Stevens told Bravin he is “disappointed” by federal judges’ “failure to treat political gerrymandering just like racial gerrymandering, because it’s certainly easier to identify which voters belong to a particular party than knowing what their race is.”

After Douglas announced his retirement in 1975, Ford was filling the first Supreme Court vacancy since President Richard Nixon had resigned because of the Watergate scandal in August 1974. Ford picked an appellate judge who had been appointed by Nixon, and he was seeking to replace a New Deal liberal who was exiting the Supreme Court with someone whose family wasn’t known for liking the New Deal.

Bravin recalls, “Many Court watchers expected Justice Stevens, the successor to Franklin Roosevelt’s last remaining appointee, to move the Court rightward. During the 1930s, the Stevens family—whose name adorned a prominent Chicago hotel—was no fan of the New Deal, and the justice remains skeptical of liberal verities like the minimum wage.”

But Bravin adds that by the time he retired, the justice “was the unlikely head of the Court’s liberal minority. He attributes that more to the ideological purity subsequent Republican presidents required of their judicial nominees than to any leftward evolution of his own views.”

In other words, Stevens is still a conservative in 2019. And one could argue that philosophically, he never left the Republican Party—it left him.

IMAGE: Photo of retired Justice John Paul Stevens, Legal Times via Flickr

 

 

Judges Strike Down Ohio’s Gerrymandered Congressional Districts

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Of all the Rust Belt states that President Donald Trump won in 2016, Ohio was arguably the most disappointing for Democrats in the 2018 midterms two years later. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown was reelected, but Republicans maintained 12 of the 16 seats that Ohio has in the U.S. House of Representatives. A federal court ruling on Ohio’s congressional map, however, might give Democrats some hope for 2020’s House races in the Buckeye State.

A panel of three federal judges, Roll Call reports, has struck down Ohio’s congressional map as unfairly gerrymandered. The judges ruled that Ohio must present a new map for 2020 and has given the state until June 14 to come up with one.

During the Obama years, Ohio and Michigan were among the states where Republicans were aggressive in their gerrymandering of congressional districts. Ohio’s congressional map, in 2011, was redrawn by a GOP-controlled state legislature. That map, first used in 2012, was challenged by various Democratic as well as nonpartisan organizations—and the three-judge panel found that “invidious partisan intent, the intent to disadvantage Democratic voters and entrench Republican representatives in power, dominated the map-drawing process.”

This decision follows an April 25 ruling in which a panel of three judges ruled that Michigan’s congressional map had been unfairly gerrymandered and that the state must come up with a new one for 2020. In the lawsuit challenging Michigan’s congressional map (which was drawn in 2011), the League of Women Voters and some Democratic plaintiffs argued that it gave an unfair advantage to Republicans. And the judges agreed with the lawsuit, ruling that it was wrong to “dilute the views of Democratic voters.”

Michigan, however, was generally a better state for Democrats than Ohio in 2018: despite gerrymandering, Democrats flipped two GOP-held seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Michigan’s state legislature has until August 1 to draw a new congressional map, which would be signed into law by the state’s new Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

IMAGE: Photo of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) by Ohio AFL-CIO/Flickr.

 

 

Danziger: Free And Fair

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Danziger: GOP Elephant Becomes A Sinister Beast

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.