When it comes to gerrymandering — the practice of representatives choosing their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives – there’s a lot of propaganda out there.
Take, for instance, the article Politico ran last month. Here’s the money part: “In key states over the past decade, Democrats have gained control of state legislatures and governorships that have long been in charge of drawing new maps only to cede that authority, often to independent commissions tasked with drawing political boundaries free of partisan interference.”
Well … the notion that Democrats are “unilaterally disarming” concerning gerrymandering is not completely correct.
While Democrats like to say they favor fair maps and like to appear as if they are in favor of fair maps, multiple officials in states controlled by Democrats are busily reneging on promises to get politics out of the redistricting process.
Somehow, former Attorney General Eric Holder, the leader of the Democrats’ “fair maps” movement and the person most responsible for their dismal showing at the state level in 2020, never seems to hold those states accountable for gerrymandering.
A few examples are probably in order.
Let’s start with Illinois. It is rarely mentioned that Gov. J.B. Pritzker specifically ran in support of an independent redistricting commission, only to break his promise by signing a new and entirely partisan legislative map into law in June. The Associated Press was typically low-key. “Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed a law establishing legislative district maps to govern elections for the next 10 years after promising as a candidate that he would veto maps drawn by politicians. … As a candidate for governor in 2018, Pritzker voiced support for an independent commission to draw maps and to remove political considerations in placing the lines. He vowed to veto any map authored by politicians, such as [the one he just approved].”
Maybe he forgot his campaign promise. Maybe he got confused and thought he was vetoing the legislation, although a veto and a bill-signing have noticeably different vibes.
How about the Empire State? There, Rep. Sean Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the crew supposed to help Democrats win seats in the House of Representatives), has urged Democrats in the state legislature to override the state’s redistricting commission and draw maps that favor Democrats. Talking about redistricting earlier this year, Mr. Maloney said: “It’s reasonable to expect that when the voters of New York have given Democrats a supermajority control of both houses of the legislature, that might create an opportunity that didn’t exist in the past.”
Democratic legislators in New York took his advice. In January, they passed legislation – on almost an entirely party-line vote— to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would repeal the higher threshold that a redistricting plan has to clear to be approved by the state’s legislature in the event one party controls both legislative bodies. The ballot measure would allow redistricting plans to be adopted by a simple majority vote regardless of party control.
How about the Free State? For all its contentiousness, it is rarely noted that the author of H.R. 1 (Rep. John Sarbanes from Maryland) represents what the Washington Post itself has called “arguably one of the nation’s most severely gerrymandered districts.”
Despite warnings from various watchdog groups (Represent.Us has placed Maryland in the highest risk category for gerrymandering), Democrats have repeatedly rejected Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s efforts to make the redistricting process bipartisan.
There are other examples, but you get the point.
Let’s get back to Mr. Holder and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee that he leads for a moment.
They have had a lot to say about the redistricting process in red states but have not held Illinois, New York or Maryland to account for their hypocrisy on fair maps. Nor do they seem particularly concerned about their own blind spots. For instance, it is not clear why former Attorney General Holder has endorsed an independent reapportionment commission in Michigan but not Illinois.
It should give everyone pause to note that if Mr. Holder hadn’t been so bad at his job and so thoroughly beaten at the state level by the Republican State Leadership Committee and its associated organizations in 2020 (despite spending more than $500 million), there would be more states like Illinois, New York and Maryland to gerrymander.
As the excellent Capital Research Center recently noted: “Besides the off-year elections in Virginia and Louisiana, Democrats lost in every state Holder and Co. targeted in 2020 — sometimes big. In Kentucky, for example, Republicans picked up a whopping 25 seats in the very same legislature [Team Holder] hoped to flip.”
Finally, it is probably useful to note the somewhat unremarkable fact that Democrats tend to favor whatever system – legislature, independent commission, judges — gives them an advantage in any particular place. The idea put forward by Politico that Democrats are somehow immune to the lure of choosing one’s voters (rather than vice-versa) is ridiculous, contrary to hundreds of years of history, and requires a suspension of disbelief so enormous that not even the mainstream media should be able to accomplish it.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.