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We Need to Combat Republican Gerrymandering

It is no fun to start off the week with worrisome news, but this is important, and then there is some more positive news after that. The worrisome part–as if we needed any more of that–is that the various state legislatures, mostly controlled by Republicans, have been busily taking the census data, and using it to gerrymander their way to disproportionate power. Meanwhile, most of the states where Democrats control the legislature, have years ago gone to neutral commissions to apportion and draw districts. It does not take a mathematical genius to figure out the ultimate results of that disparity.

The radically gerrymandered maps that Republicans are rushing through their legislatures include the following: Trump got 53% of the vote in Ohio, but the map proposed by Republicans gives them 86% of the Congressional seats. Trump got 49.9% in North Carolina, and the proposed redistricting gives Republicans 71-78% of the seats. Trump got 49% of the vote in Michigan; the maps would give Republicans 75% of the seats. Trump got 52% in Texas, the map drawn would give them 65% of the seats. This data comes from Ari Berman of “Mother Jones” magazine, who spends almost all of his time analyzing these things.

Well, in a word, this is obscene. But that never bothers Republicans. Over the years, they have tried to game every aspect of our electoral system. Their path there was to take over state legislatures. They were immensely successful at this, particularly during the eight years of the Obama presidency. For whatever reasons, the Democratic leaders did not notice this, or did not care about it enough, or were powerless to stop it. But now we have state after state with Republican-controlled legislatures with the power to draw voting district maps, and of course they will gerrymander them to every extreme possible.

In a couple of states where Democrats surprised and won the governorship, the Republican legislators met in lame duck session, and passed laws limiting the power of the governor, and then got their outgoing Republican governor to sign them. This happened in North Carolina and Wisconsin, and probably also in Michigan. I am not an expert on the voting laws in every state, but I know that the new maps drawn up in North Carolina do not have to be approved by the governor, based on laws the Republicans rammed through after Roy Cooper was elected, but before he took office. The same with Tony Evers in Wisconsin.

Republicans never sleep. Like some kind of entities in a horror novel, they gain their sustenance from a diet of winning, and power, and destroying the Democrats’ chance to govern.

Or to use another simile, it feels like we are in a chess game where we weren’t concentrating enough on the board,; we were chatting and just enjoying the game, and suddenly we realize that our opponent has two extra pawns, and the ability to simply grind our side down with that advantage, so that no series of moves we make can change the inevitable outcome.

I know that the brave and determined attorney Marc Elias of “Democracy Docket” has vowed to sue against all the voting suppression laws and gerrymandering of various states, and there are a lot of them. He has 60 or so attorneys who have admirably signed up to help him. But none of this will do any good if courts do not find in his favor, and even hear the lawsuits.

It was my understanding that the Roberts Court decided a year or two ago that they were not going to question or overturn any gerrymandering, relying on the old “States’ Rights” argument which historically was used by Right-Wing courts to block federal legislation, including on Civil Rights. I would be stunned if this Far Right Supreme Court will throw out any of the gerrymandering done by Republicans. State courts might, but the states will appeal to the Supreme Court. Maybe Elias has more insight and hope about this than I do.

Now, if Democrats were busily gerrymandering in their states, we would have two pluses. First, we would gain more seats in Congress. Second, it is possible that this would force the Supreme Court to either leave it all alone, or draw up some rules controlling the extent of gerrymandering, in terms of some mandated percentage which could not deviate from the population breakdown. As it is, they can simply say, “We do not believe that the courts should determine the drawing up of district maps, that is properly left to the states/” “Sounds fair!,” hacks like Jonathan Turley will say, knowing very well that this guarantees Republicans control of Congress which almost can never be changed, as long as the electorate is not skewed immensely in favor of Democrats.

In the 2020 election, Biden won by about five percent, and seven million votes. But Republicans picked up twelve House seats. Yes, we had gained 40 in 2018, so it was not surprising that some of those swing districts swung back. But clearly Democrats do not currently have the kind of overall margins which would give us enough votes to overcome the rural electoral bias, now accentuated by extreme gerrymandering, sufficient to hold a Congressional majority.

Elias estimated that the gerrymandering in Ohio and North Carolina could mean a difference of 5-8 seats. We cannot afford that kind of skewing, plus another 10-20 seats n other states. Just through that, if it stands, Republicans win the House without having to do anything but cash the chips which accrue to them in the form of districts drawn to where Democrats cannot win them, outside of a major national landslide for the party holding the Presidency, which is almost unheard of in our history. In other words, a guaranteed win for Republicans, which is what they want; what all those days and nights spent taking over states, drawing bogus maps which lock Democrats into a few districts, is intended to do.

Meanwhile, most Democrats in Blue states had some years ago rushed to show how fair and sporting they are, by handing over districting power to independent commissions. In other words, if a 60% Democratic-controlled state has 30 districts, the independent commission would likely divide the districts up 18-12, the equivalent percentage. But in a state with 60% Republican control, the Republican state legislature would divide it up 21-9, or even 24-6, because who is going to stop them? “Just win, baby! Let the concept of democracy be damned!”

In New York, the new governor Kathy Hochul has talked about gerrymandering the state’s districts, but Republicans are screaming about it–because Democrats are supposed to play fair, keep to the roles the Republicans assign to them, as ethical losers. And how many voters in a given state know or care what is going on in other states?

Some Democrats might even somehow say, “Just because they cheat in Texas (or Ohio, or North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona) does not mean we should cheat in our state! Actually it does, if you want to survive as a national party. And the Supreme Court does not think it is cheating, either, just good old hardball politics that both sides used to employ, but Democrats have become too fair-minded to stoop to now, so in this regard, they are essentially bringing a throw pillow to a duel. Or as one unnamed Democratic official was quoted as saying about this, “Like shooting yourself in the head.”

I bet that Democrats could gain 5-10 Congressional seats in California, just by ending their independent commission and gerrymandering districts. It is our biggest state, our biggest potential gain from gerrymandering, but we don’t do it here.

While this has been going on out of the headlines, we finally got some positive spin from the media as a result of the passing of the infrastructure bill. I won’t debate the complex and contentious aspects of that bill and the Build Back Better bill in this essay. But I do think that many people believe that the infrastructure bill does a lot of good things; it is the BBB where there is the controversy about doing enough.

Now, I don’t know if the voting public is attuned to this news, but hopefully some of it will get through. I don’t know whether this will influence their votes; GA6thDem points out that in her state, most of the people vote on “cultural issues,” not actually knowing or caring much about the economic relief bills that Democrats pass, and that Republicans never do, in their Social Darwinism,which assures them they can get all the money, pay almost no taxes,and leave the middle and lower economic classes to somehow make do; or not, they don’t care.

We need something to get through to these voters, because it looks like we might need something like a ten percent national popular vote win in Congressional races,which is absurd for it to have to be the case. While Marc Elias and this team are striving to get some of these state maps invalidated,and to somehow curb voter suppression laws, we need to make as many people as we possibly can, become aware of Democrats’ focus on the working class of both genders. Not only how Democrats are going to be spending a great deal of money on highways and transportation,and water projects, and the jobs needed to create and repair them, but how Republicans will never do it, and may likely cancel all of this if they control Congress,

Now in reality this may be unlikely, as least as long as there is a Democratic president, but we can say it anyway. Republicans exaggerate far more for effect, and they just make up things on a daily basis. And if Republicans win back the presidency, it will happen, and there will be a lot of half-completed bridges as curiosities, because you don’t have money to build bridges when you have to take it to cut corporate tax rates even further.

We have to make it so that it is not just “What Democrats Will Do For You,” it is “What Republicans Will Do To You.” Democrats, in their general kindly nature, don’t like scaring voters, when that is all that Republican do, to often successful effect. Far too many voters either think or intuit that there really is no cost to electing Republicans, that the threat comes from Democrats holding power. That is a terrible misapprehension that we Democrats, at least those who campaign and run the party machinery, allow to take hold.

Actually scaring (or a more polite term would be “waking up”) voters as to what will happen if Republicans have power, should be the centerpiece of the upcoming campaign. If we simply refuse to gerrymander our states, and let Republicans completely skew the voting terrain, then we absolutely must run a myriad of campaigns which, along with any specific district issues, will make a powerful and visceral case that if you vote Republican, this country–its land, its air, its roads and farms and lakes–will be destroyed; and jobs will disappear, and the current increase in wages will vanish forever; and you will think that you are living in the dystopia of “1984,” or Alex Proyas’ superb movie “Dark City.”

Maybe that is a little esoteric, but it is time to get intense, and dramatic, while we are trying to figure out how to deal with a voting system where their side always cheats, but accuses us of cheating, while we desperately try to show how virtuous and fair we are, n a game that they have already “fixed,” and are trying to fix even further.

Republicans, probably just through their loud megaphones which are always on, have convinced far too many voters that they are their friends who will stand up for hem, when they are just the opposite. They actually don’t believe in any of the so-called principles of democracy that they keep piously reciting. They use classic fascist techniques of telling the people that they will protect them from dangerous forces, and that they need absolute power and obedience to do so. At the very least, we need to attack, not just defend. And get rid of the independent districting commissions in Blue states, which are simply inappropriate as things currently stand.

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