This book infuriated me but also lowered the decibel level of my political retorts. I can clearly see now the utter cynicism with which Republican strategists set about grabbing as many seats as they could with the intent to hold onto them for a decade or more by controlling the redistricting process. “When you have power you exercise it.” The gerrymander is the reason Blue states can appear to vote Red. What is so pitiful is that we can still hear voters talking about what they believe like it actually makes any difference to the operatives in Congress.
It is difficult to keep the partisanship out of discussions of politics, but I am going to try because the issue discussed in this book, gerrymandering, was/is really practiced by Democrats as well as Republicans. The Republicans, under the leadership of a legendary Republican campaign strategist called Lee Atwater, recognized in the 1980s that controlling the right to draw the lines of voting districts could mean greater Republican representation in local, state, and national races.
They began a strategy which would not see results for thirty years. This decade it has come to fruition. Several states are laboring under gerrymanders so severely skewed to the Republicans that although Democrats win a majority of the votes, their representation actually falls. This book gives some of the background, especially for those states we watch closely in the national elections: Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania.
An international non-profit which specializes in vote monitoring around the world turned its analytic eye on the United States, the “greatest democracy in the world” according to some, and discovered that North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania had electoral representation more skewed to favor one party than many third-world countries.
Wisconsin, the state that brings you Speaker Ryan, has greater than 50% Democratic votes but has 60+% Republican seats. Wisconsin’s redistricting is currently handled by their Republican legislature, which allowed the national Republican party, with funds provided by Koch Brothers, to draw their redistricting maps. In closed sessions, deep secrecy, late night and storm days they would gather to prevent transparency of their process and to ensure Republican voters were the largest voting block in most districts. Even in a largely Democratic state, they managed to break, stack, crack, pack the districts with enough Republican voters to grab Congressional and state seats, and the governorship. Wisconsin used to be a Deep Blue state.
In November 2016 a federal court ordered that the voting districts in Wisconsin be redrawn by November 2017. Wisconsin Republicans (including Paul Ryan) refused, and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). Meanwhile, voters in Wisconsin are seriously disenfranchised. This is happening now, folks, and can be watched as it progresses through the courts.
Pennsylvania is the third most voter-obstructed state. Last year a youth pastor, Carol Kuniholm, noticed extraordinary discrepancies between the schools in some city districts and suburban schools and discovered one of the main reasons was underrepresentation due to gerrymandering. Kuniholm began a movement in PA which has taken on enormous momentum within the state and is garnering national recognition. You can watch progress of her attempt to introduce a bill to require an independent nonpartisan committee to decide contiguous, compact districts that do not break communities, cities, or racial blocks at fairdistrictspa.com. She wants nothing less than the democratic process to work as intended.
Daley shows that state legislature-managed redistricting can be severely partisan and that citizens in some states have managed to pass referendums requiring a nonpartisan independent committee to manage redistricting. The independent committee works well in Iowa but is still subject to vicious partisan wrangling in Arizona. Some academics have taken on the challenge of trying to envision a better, more democratic process and Daley discusses these at the end of his book.
And this is the part of the book that I liked best of all. At the end Daley points out that gerrymandering has been ‘stealing people’s votes’ for centuries and it may have come up against its logical limits this decade. Because of the advances in computer modeling, coupled with voter awareness and rage at the government we have been handed, it may be possible to do something completely different. He points out that if Hillary had won the electoral college vote, she would have faced the same intransigence in Congress that stymied Obama. Instead, we got Trump. Daley quotes a Republican operative, Grover Norquist, talking with utter cynicism to a Conservative Political Action conference in 2012:
”We are not auditioning for a fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We just need a president to sign this stuff. Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.”The GOP will keep Trump around as long as he can sign stuff and listens to what they say. So, okay. This is what we are dealing with. It means we need to pay attention, focus our energy, rely on each other, and tell our legislators we want fairness and representation. This book is a very easy read because it is so eye-opening. It gives you the basics, suggests a fix, and points a direction. What more do we need?
You can buy this book here: Tweet