Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Happens in Georgia Stays in Maryland: Trading Rep. Bartlett for Rep. Barrow

Republican operatives have a tendency to play victim when they are in the minority. Oftentimes, they feign an interest in good government or compromise (ie: "we need a fair redistricting process"). But when they are in power, we often realize there was never anything meek or defenseless about them.

There is no better example of Republicans' mercilessness than in redistricting. In Democratic states like Maryland, Republicans complain about run-of-the-mill gerrymandering. But in Republican states, the GOP has stooped to lower-and-lower levels, leaving Democrats to essentially fight a systematic extermination program. A prime example emerged from an AP report over the weekend:
Nearly 50 years ago, every congressman from the Deep South was a white Democrat.

Now the U.S. House has just one white Democrat from the five states that comprise the region: Georgia's John Barrow.
Barrow last year survived the Republican tide that wiped out 20 white Democratic members of Congress from the across the South, yet his toughest battle may lie ahead. New political maps approved by the Republican-controlled Georgia legislature leave him politically homeless, placing his residence outside the 12th District that he now represents and stripping away the base of his Democratic support — largely African American — along the coast....
"It's a systematic disenfranchisement of moderate and conservative Democrats," Kirincich said.
Where is the sound and the fury from the Maryland Republicans about this injustice? I find the silence (and the hypocrisy) amusing. Now, you might be asking yourself why anyone in Maryland would care about how they redraw the Congressional boundaries in Georgia. But don't be fooled -- what is going on around the country is very important for guiding how Maryland should react.

Some, like my friends at the League of Women Voters, truly want independent redistricting practices to be used everywhere -- including in Maryland:
We support an independent commission....

We support both a process and standards that promote fair and effective representation with maximum opportunity for public scrutiny. Districts should have substantially equal population, geographic contiguity and compactness.
I am very familiar with the aforementioned worldview, having spent five years working in the fair elections/good government world. That being said, what I'm about to express might be blasphemy for some of my former colleagues, but I truly believe we've been bringing the proverbial knives to gun-fights when dealing with the Republicans. So here we go....

There is a much stronger case for independent redistricting for local governing bodies than for national governing bodies. Local redistricting is more prone to occur in a vacuum -- meaning, how you draw county lines usually has no direct impact outside of those counties. Congressional redistricting, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. This is not Las Vegas. What happens in Georgia does not stay in Georgia.

Congressional redistricting is by nature a game theory exercise. It is a zero-sum practice, since each state is carving up their share of a finite 435-member Congress. But each state's cut of the puzzle needs to merge with all the rest to form a national Congress and decide which party will lead. If the Republicans are cutting all of their pieces to their advantage and the Democrats are cutting all of their pieces to fit ideal design standards, guess who is going to end up with an advantage in trying to control Congress? Now, if the proposal were for a 50-state, all-at-the-same-time national independent redistricting movement, I might be able to get on board.

This problem does not exist in the same way for state and local redistricting, where you could more easily see compelling logic for compactness, keeping communities intact, etc. Within these systems, Republicans are well aware of how to leverage their control of legislatures to get the most bang out of the buck once (or twice) every ten years.

Remember, Republicans have for years been aggressively using redistricting as another full-throttle electoral control tool. In our article about Montgomery County redistricting, we noted the most egregious example of gerrymandering madness in recent memory (and of course it happened under Republican rule).

The GOP was apparently not content with the once every 10 years redistricting process that all American communities undergo -- so in the middle of the last decade, they decided to have a second round of redistricting, just to eradicate a few more Democrats. I bumped into a synopsis of the shenanigans that was written during the re-redistricting process. Of course, it was Georgia at it again! You see, the Republicans never kept their eyes off of Rep. John Barrow. They are determined to finish the job they started years ago:
...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)....

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.
So with this history and the current political climate in context, I just cannot see the logic that would compel a pragmatist to push for anything than other than Democrats trying to counter the Republican gerrymanders at every opportunity -- meaning in states that they control.

If you don't like that idea, I have an alternate proposal.

Maryland Democrats should offer to form a sister-state relationship with their Georgia GOP counterparts. We'll stop messing with Rep. Andy Harris and Roscoe Bartlett's districts when they implement new districts drawn through an independent redistricting commission. If that sounds like a hostage negotiation to you, it is because they've hijacked our country!

So please factor all of this in when you see articles like this one from the Gazette's Sarah Breitenbach:
"Public says: Don’t divide communities in redistricting"
Though the media typically uses neutral headlines in their redistricting coverage, I will point out that everyone who is opposed to "dividing communities" in the Gazette article above is a Republican. This seems to be true for many of the residents testifying at redistricting hearings (other than minority groups with Voting Rights Act concerns or neighborhood groups in local boundary disputes).

So, I decided to take my red pen out and do a little editing to the Gazette's headline, since Sarah Breitenbach helped edit my Wesley Clark story in last week's Gazette. :)

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