Articles

Obama’s Gerrymander Fable

October 14, 2021
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I guess I should be honored that the National Democratic Redistricting Committee slapped my name and picture on its fundraising email, but am I really “the latest Republican attack on democracy?”

The committee’s appeal appeared after former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were named co-chairmen of the National Republican Redistricting Trust and—horror!—I became an adviser to the group, which provides data and legal support to GOP efforts in the redistricting that occurs each decade.

The NRRT was formed in response to Democratic efforts organized in 2016 by former President Barack Obama and his attorney general Eric Holder. Mr. Holder is NDRC chairman, and Mr. Obama says the group is the main focus of his post-White House political activity. The NDRC works to elect more Democratic state legislators and then provide data and legal services as they draw maps. An affiliate, called All on the Line (AOTL), mobilizes volunteers for these endeavors.

Practicing habits they’ve built up over their political careers, Messrs. Obama and Holder cloak their activities in righteousness while angrily attacking similar efforts from Republicans. Mr. Holder says GOP redistricting maps represent “a threat to our democracy” and, along with recent election reforms, “put our entire system of government in jeopardy.” The “vicious cycle” of Republican “anti-democratic gerrymandering” will only produce victories by “candidates with unpopular and even dangerous views,” according to Mr. Holder.

This sort of rhetoric isn’t unusual from the NDRC or AOTL, which routinely rip into political rivals. In AOTL’s words, GOP governors in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Texas are “showing disdain for our democracy” in their state’s redistricting. The group also denounced the Supreme Court for making it “harder to have a truly representative democracy.” Taking a page from the Trump playbook, an AOTL fundraising pitch claims that in the 2000 White House race, Republicans “pushed to disenfranchise voters and steal an election.” Mr. Obama should be ashamed of lending his prestige to such a charge.

Moreover, Messrs. Obama and Holder’s claim that they’re concerned only with crafting fair maps is bunk. Their definition of a “fair” map is one that gives Democrats an unfair advantage.

Take Maryland. Democrats wiped out a GOP seat in redistricting in 2011, giving the state seven Democratic representatives and one Republican. As this year’s redistricting heats up, Democratic leaders look to gut the state’s single remaining Republican district by dividing it among adjoining Democratic districts. Messrs. Obama and Holder haven’t said a thing.

Then there’s Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D., Ill.), who entered office pledging to end gerrymandering by giving the job of redistricting to an independent commission. That never happened. Instead, Democratic legislators are preparing a new congressional map that likely will wipe out two Republican districts while shoring up Democrats who are at risk in 2022. And guess what? Nothing but crickets from Mr. Obama and his old attorney general.

There’s also New York. In 2014 voters approved a nonpartisan commission to draw congressional lines that only a legislative supermajority could reject. How’s the state faring as it crafts new maps while losing one of its 27 seats in reapportionment? First, the Democratic Legislature tried starving the commission, refusing to supply funds to operate.

Then Democratic commissioners refused to meet with Republicans to settle on a bipartisan map, while their party’s legislative leaders worked to weaken the supermajority vote requirement. Gov. Kathy Hochul also pledged to flip GOP congressional seats, which could take the delegation from today’s 19-8 Democratic majority to 23-3. Again, no denunciation of “threats to democracy” or cries of “fair maps or death!” from Messrs. Obama and Holder.

They’re quick to scream when Republicans’ share of a congressional delegation is larger than their share of the vote, but they never apply this standard to states where Democrats dominate redistricting. Take Oregon, where Democrats have 80% of the seats though Republicans received 40% of the vote. Or Massachusetts, where Democrats have 100% of contested seats and Republicans received 33% of the vote. Or California, where Democrats have 76% of seats contested by the GOP while Republicans received 38% of the vote. Or Illinois, where Democrats hold 67% of seats even though Republicans got 41% of the vote. Or . . . well, you get the picture.

Mr. Obama gave away his game in a recent email. “Every issue we care about—from income inequality and health care to climate policy—depends on the results of this redistricting process.” So this isn’t about fairness, democracy or ending gerrymandering. In redistricting, Democrats want to elect more of their partisans to advance their agenda. So do Republicans. The only difference is that Messrs. Obama and Holder are hypocrites about it, claiming a higher purpose. Like I said, old habits die hard.

Read more at WSJ.com

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