Over the weekend, Markos of DailyKos, pondering his California absentee ballot, posed a very pertinent question: why shouldn’t he vote for Proposition 77, Arnold Schwarzenneger’s redistricting reform initiative? Yes, he suggests, it might have a short-term negative impact on Democratic margins in the congressional delegation and the state legislature, but if it contributes to a national redistricting reform movement, it’s likely to help Democrats nationally, particularly if Democratic-backed reform initiatives in Ohio (this year) and Florida (next year) succeed as well.I can’t answer Markos’ question definitively, but do want to draw attention to peculiarities of the California initiative that make it different from those in the other states. I’ve written about this subject extensively here and here (note that the first piece was written before the Ohio initiative got underway, while the second was written before the California initiative overcame a judicial challenge), so I’ll just hit the high points.Prop 77 relies heavily on the assumption that nonpartisan redistricting is (a) feasible, and (b) will produce a more balanced map. Both these assumptions are very questionable. But that’s why the initiative focuses so heavily on who draws the maps, rather than what criteria they use. The Ohio initiative (and for that matter, the Florida initiative that’s now in a legal limbo) requires use of partisan voter registration and performance data to create an overall redistricting plan that maximizes both competitive districts and statewide partisan fairness, while the California initiative prohibits use of such data and does not make competitiveness or partisan fairness criteria at all. The one state that has successfully applied this take-the-politics-out approach to redistricting is Iowa, but Iowa, with its relatively homogenous population, stable partisan balance, and strong “good government” tradition, is not California, by a long shot. So in the end, Prop 77 is pretty much a leap into the unknown. Thus, for Democrats in particular, the decision on Prop 77 is pretty much a matter of how you feel about the current map and the system that created it. But there’s one major piece of misinformation circulating (it’s very visible in the comment thread after Markos’ post) that needs to be refuted: the idea that the current map is a standard-brand partisan gerrymander that maximized Democratic seats. Not so. For both the congressional delegation and the state legislature, the Democratic leadership pursued an incumbent-protection strategy that all but eliminated competitive districts. Yes, it created a floor under Democratic majorities, but also created a ceiling. In effect, the map traded potential opportunities to win new Democratic seats for the assurance that incumbents wouldn’t have to worry about general elections. (Another motive, according to everybody I’ve talked to, was to enable primary challenges to centrist Democrats in the state legislature, many of which succeeded). California’s situation is in sharp contrast to that of Ohio and Florida, where the reigning Republicans did indeed focus on partisan advantage to the exclusion of virtually every other factor.In other words, the Democratic advantage in California’s congressional delegation and state legislature is the product of an unavoidable Democratic advantage among voters, not of Democratic control of redistricting. And there’s no particular reason to believe the system established by Prop 77 would change that reality. The bottom line for me is that I don’t like the system set out in Prop 77, but I also don’t think partisanship is a good reason for opposing it, particularly since the current map is so egregiously aimed at eliminating competition altogether. I hope this analysis helps Markos and other California Dems make their decision. All redistricting reforms are not created equal; nor is the status quo in Democratic and Republican-controlled states the same. It’s entirely possible to oppose Prop 77 while supporting the initiatives in Ohio and Florida on substantive grounds, but not because California’s current system is particularly good for Democrats, or for democracy.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.