washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Re-Redistricting Wars?

The word a couple of weeks ago was that DC GOPers were less than thrilled at CA Gov. Arnold Schwarzennegar’s redistricting reform ballot initiative, on grounds that the current system nationally is helping keep Republicans in charge, and they’d just as soon leave things as they are.Well, the odds of letting sleeping dogs lie on this subject just went way down, as Republican legislators in my poor home state of Georgia started a re-redistricting of Congressional Districts aimed at zapping a couple of Democratic incumbents. Their model, of course, is the Great Texas Power Grab of 2003, the re-redistricting engineered by Tom DeLay which ultimately produced a net gain of five House seats for the GOP, reversing what would have otherwise been a loss of seats in 2004 (Republicans in Colorado tried the same stunt, but were overruled by the courts citing a state constitutional provision limiting redistricting to once a decade). But in a way, the Georgia gambit is worse. In Texas, the fig-leaf justifications for the Power Grab were that (a) the Dem majority in the House delegation did not reflect recent partisan results in statewide elections, and (b) the map they were throwing out was drawn by judges, not legislators. In Georgia, (a) the current 7-6 GOP advantage in House districts is a pretty fair reflection of recent election results, and (b) the map they are throwing out was duly drawn by the legislature, signed by the Governor, pre-cleared by the Bush Justice Department, and upheld by the courts. In other words, the Georgia Republicans are undertaking this outrage, well, because they can. The new GOPer map is apparently aimed at snuffing two white Democratic House members, Jim Marshall, who represents a central-west central GA district, and John Barrow, who just beat a Republican incumbent to represent the Athens-Augusta-Savannah district. They aren’t going after the state’s four African-American House Members (John Lewis, Cynthia McKinney, David Scott, and Sanford Bishop) because that would raise an unmistakable Voting Right Act issue. But in any event, the GA Power Grab may wind up biting the national GOP in the butt. News of the latest Power Grab led (according to the subscription-only Roll Call newspaper) House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to put in a few phone calls to Democrats in the three states where their party has taken over total control of the executive and legislative branches since the regular redistricting cycle prior to 2002: Illinois, New Mexico, and Louisiana. Illinois is a potentially ripe target for a retaliatory re-redistricting, since GOPers hold nine seats, and because the new chairman of the DCCC, Rahm Emanuel, is from that state. Moreover, one of the Illinois Republicans who could find himself in sudden trouble is a guy named Dennis Hastert. Personally, I hate all this re-redistricting crap, and the whole system of partisan and incumbent-protection gerrymandering that has reduced the People’s House of Congress to a vast rotten borough where politicians choose voters rather than the other way around. But if Republicans continue to game the system, they can’t complain if Democrats retaliate where they can, and maybe the whole spectacle can build support for a truly national drive for comprehensive redistricting reform. Maybe those Georgia Republican jokers will smell the coffee and call off the dogs before their own party’s House speaker finds himself hunted as well.

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