Republican gerrymandering

With the Supreme Court saying that Section 4 of the voting rights act needs a do over thus making Section 5 void, many of us are not happy.  The odds of Congress coming up with a new formula are pretty slim.  But, all may not be lost.

We know that the Republican controlled state houses used the 2010 Census to draw districts that allowed them to hold on to the House last year.  This despite Section 4 in at least some of those states.  This morning, Politico.com published a story by Alex Isenstadt in which he points out that this gerrymandering may have unintended consequences for them.

No one disputes Republicans used the once-a-decade redistricting process to  lock in their House majority — almost certainly through 2014 and possibly until  the next round of line-drawing in 2020.

But the party could pay a steep price for that dominance.

Some top GOP strategists and candidates warn that the ruby red districts the  party drew itself into are pushing House Republicans further to the right —  narrowing the party’s appeal at a time when some GOP leaders say its future  rests on the opposite happening. If you’re looking for a root cause of the  recurring drama within the House Republican Conference — from the surprise  meltdown on the farm bill to the looming showdown over immigration reform — the  increasingly conservative makeup of those districts is a good place to start.

Opposition to immigration reform by the Tea Party.

Opposition to immigration reform by the Tea Party.

These gerrymandered districts are also less diverse.

Gerrymandering and partisanship, of course, aren’t new phenomena in the  House. But the post-2010 redistricting process driven by GOP-controlled state  legislatures — Republicans wielded line-drawing power in nearly five times as  many districts as Democrats — produced significantly more districts that are  overwhelmingly conservative.

Of the 234 House Republicans, just four now represent districts that favor  Democrats, according to data compiled by The Cook Political Report. That’s down  from the 22 Republicans who resided in Democratic-friendly seats following the  2010 midterms, prior to the line-drawing.

They’re also serving districts that are increasingly white. After  redistricting and the 2012 election, according to The Cook Political Report, the  average Republican congressional district went from 73 percent white to 75  percent white. And even as Hispanics have emerged as America’s fastest-growing  demographic group, only about one-tenth of Republicans represent districts where  the Latino population is 25 percent or higher.

My Ezra Klein Wonkbook email this morning pointed out

The conventional wisdom around Washington these days is that the Republican Party needs to pass immigration reform if it’s going to survive. But remember: House Republicans aren’t the same thing as “the Republican Party.” And they probably don’t need to pass immigration reform to keep their majority. In fact, passing  immigration reform — at least with a path to citizenship — might put them in more danger. Two figures from Janet Hook in the Wall Street Journal show why.

First, “only 38 of the House’s 234 Republicans, or 16%, represent districts in which Latinos account for 20% or more of the population.”

Second, “only 28 Republican-held districts are considered even remotely at risk of being contested by a Democratic challenger, according to the nonpartisan Cook  Political Report.”

So for about 200 of the House’s Republicans, a primary challenge by conservatives angry over “amnesty” is probably a more realistic threat than defeat at the hands of angry Hispanic voters, or even angry Democrats. “Our guys actually do primary over immigration,” a top House Republican aide who wants to get immigration done told me.

Of course, that leaves some 34 Republicans who have reason to fear a Democratic challenge. And  it leaves dozens who privately support immigration reform and don’t have much to fear from either Democratic or Republican challengers.

So the Republican House members mostly represent people like themselves and need to become more conservative, not less, to keep their seats.  We aren’t talking just about immigration reform here, but a whole range of issues.  It also explains why the House’s favorite vote is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

What does all this mean for Democratic chances to take back the House in the next election?  Isenstadt writes

New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign  Committee, argued that Republicans in moderate suburban and exurban areas will  find themselves under increasing pressure in the months leading up to the  midterms.

“The problem for many Republicans in these specific districts is that if  they’re less partisan, they face a primary from the right. If they protect  themselves from a primary by being more partisan, they’re in trouble in the  general election,” Israel said. “They’re getting squeezed. We’re going to make  sure that hole is very small.”

The question is:  Are there enough of those districts for the Democrats to take the House?

It would appear that much of what is holding up legislation in the House are internal Republican fights.

When House Republicans have rallied behind legislation, it’s often been for  something deeply conservative. Two weeks ago, Republicans passed a measure that  would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Just six GOP members  opposed the bill, including two because it didn’t go far enough.

To the conservatives, softening the GOP’s positions isn’t what’s going to  save the party in the long run.

“Political success doesn’t come from moderation,” said Arizona Rep. David  Schweikert, a Republican who opposed the farm bill and supported the  anti-abortion measure. “It’s from having principles and articulating them in a  forthright fashion.”

Schweikert, who represents a conservative Scottsdale-area district that Mitt  Romney carried with nearly 60 percent of the vote, called the Senate immigration  bill a “nonstarter.” His district is 12 percent Hispanic.

The bottom line is that so-called national Republican leaders who currently do not hold elective office along with some governors and Senators who have to run statewide campaigns can call for the party to moderate positions all they want.  The House has hitched its horse to some very conservative ideals so Republican members can get re-elected.  In the long run, this is probably good for the Democrats.

Photograph:  AP

4 thoughts on “Republican gerrymandering

  1. Pingback: GOP could pay price for gerrymandering | The Fifth Column

  2. In another context it’s called “red-lining”. The Republicans are creating their own conservative “ghettos” by not wanting to mix with the rest of the electorate. Too bad.

    • Yes, and red-lining ended up costing realtor and rental companies. I know because I worked on some of lawsuits with HOME in Virginia.

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