Gerrymandering heads to the Supreme Court

As we begin our reading of RATF**KED: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy,  you will also want to read the The New York Times  piece on April 21st outlining the current status of the legal fights around gerrymandering.

 The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. A panel of judges agreed that the State Assembly’s electoral districts had been gerrymandered before the 2012 election, favoring Republicans.CreditMichael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal, via Associated Press

The hand-to-hand political combat in House elections on Tuesday in Georgia and last week in Kansas had the feel of the first rounds of an epic battle next year for control of the House of Representatives and the direction of national politics as the Trump presidency unfolds.

But for all the zeal on the ground, none of it may matter as much as a case heading to the Supreme Court, one that could transform political maps from City Hall to Congress — often to Democrats’ benefit.

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

Now the Wisconsin case is headed to a Supreme Court that has repeatedly said that extreme partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, but has never found a way to decide which ones cross the line.

Some legal scholars believe this could be the year that changes that. If that happens, they say, an emphatic ruling against partisan gerrymanders would rank with another redistricting decision: Baker v. Carr, the historic 1962 case that led to the principle of one person, one vote.

 “My feeling is that there is increasing concern within the court about the extent of partisan gerrymandering over the last 10 or 15 years,” said Richard H. Pildes, a constitutional law professor at the New York University School of Law. “I do think this is a pivotal moment — a big, big moment.”

Gerrymandering has always been contentious. But the extraordinary success of a Republican strategy to control redistricting by capturing majorities in state legislatures in the 2010 elections has lent urgency to the debate.

Today, at a time of hyperpartisan politics and computer technology that can measure political leanings almost house by house, Republicans control legislatures in 33 states, 25 with Republican governors. They have unfettered command over the boundaries of at least 204 congressional districts — amounting to nearly half the 435-seat House.

In contrast, Democrats’ share of state legislature seats has shrunk to a level not seen since Warren G. Harding was president, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in recent years, their numbers in the House of Representatives have hovered near levels last seen during the Truman administration.

Partly because of the Voting Rights Act, gerrymanders based on race are flatly illegal, but ones based on partisan intent remain in limbo.

The Wisconsin case heads four legal actions on partisan gerrymanders that the Supreme Court could consider and, perhaps, consolidate. In Maryland, another three-judge panel will hear arguments over whether a Democratic legislature gerrymandered House districts in 2011 to oust a 10-term Republican congressman.

In North Carolina, a June hearing is scheduled in a suit over the unabashedly partisan carving of the state into 10 Republican and three Democratic House seats — this in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The state representative who drew that map said he had engineered 10 safely Republican seats only “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

Experts disagree over how much gerrymandering has hurt Democrats. One prominent 2013 study mostly blamed geography, not partisanship, because Democrats tend to cluster in cities. But the most recent study, by a Princeton professor, Samuel S. H. Wang, concluded that gerrymanders had cost Democrats as many as 22 House seats in the 2012 election — nearly enough to flip the chamber’s control.

Politicians, on the other hand, appear certain of their electoral potency. Former President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., are spearheading an initiative to undo Republicans’ redistricting triumphs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and the former governor of California, is leading a movement to outlaw gerrymanders of any political stripe.

Wisconsin Republican leaders say they dominate the Legislature because they have both a better strategy and vision of governing, not because of illegal gerrymandering.

“In a year when people want change, even in a district that favors one party over another, a good candidate with a good message wins,” said Robin Vos, Wisconsin’s Assembly speaker.

But the court said in November that the redistricting clearly aimed to entrench Republican control of the Assembly. The party took 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats in 2012 despite losing the popular vote, and has since added three more.

As in all gerrymanders, Wisconsin’s mapmakers hobbled their opponents in two ways. One was to pack as many Democrats as possible into a few districts, leaving fewer Democrats for potentially competitive ones. In 2012, 21 of the 39 Assembly districts that Democrats won were so lopsided that Republicans did not even field candidates. In two more, Democrats captured at least 94 percent of the vote.

The other method was to fracture unwinnable Democratic districts, salting their Democrats among Republican-majority districts so that races there became closer yet remained out of Democrats’ reach.

“They just busted my district and put it into four or five others,” said Mark Radcliffe, a 45-year-old Democrat and former state representative, whose district encompassed Alma Center, in rural western Wisconsin. Mr. Radcliffe, who wound up in the district of another Democrat, chose to resign rather than run against a popular member of his own party.

John Steinbrink at his home in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. Mr. Steinbrink, a Democrat, had represented a district in far southeastern Wisconsin since 1996, but after redistricting, lost to a Republican who won 55 percent of the vote in 2012. Credit Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

John Steinbrink, another Democrat, had represented southeastern Wisconsin in the Assembly since 1996, supported by a Democratic base in Kenosha, six miles from where he farms corn and soybeans. After redistricting, Kenosha became a safe Democratic district, and Mr. Steinbrink was exiled to an adjoining district populated by rural conservatives. In 2012, his Republican opponent won with 55 percent of the vote.

“I could have moved to Kenosha” and sought re-election there, Mr. Steinbrink said. “But I don’t know how you farm in the city.”

The legal argument against such maps is akin to the one used for decades to outlaw ethnic and racial gerrymanders. Gerrymanders dilute a minority group’s votes, muffling its voice in the political process. The Wisconsin plaintiffs argue that whether the minority group is African-Americans or members of a political party makes no difference.

“When you’re talking about the opportunity to turn your vote into a policy or change, the 14th Amendment says you should have an equal chance, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” said Ruth Greenwood, the deputy director for redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center, which is representing plaintiffs in Wisconsin and North Carolina. “But if you’re a Republican in Wisconsin, you get an outsized say with your vote. And if you’re a Democrat in Rhode Island, you get an outsized say.’’

But while racial or ethnic gerrymanders can be statistically measured — a Latino remains a Latino from election to election — judges have struggled to identify overly partisan districts, knowing voter sentiments can quickly change.

In Supreme Court cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, justices variously called partisan gerrymanders illegitimate, seriously harmful, incompatible with democratic principles and “manipulation of the electorate.” But they have never struck one down. And in 2004, they came within a single vote of ruling them impossible to judge, because nobody could draw the line between unavoidable political influence in redistricting and an unconstitutional rigging of the vote.

The Maryland lawsuit proposes a solution that some justices have pondered: an argument that gerrymanders violate the First Amendment, not the 14th, by retaliating against opponents who express contrary views. Under that standard, any partisanship-inspired district would be unconstitutional if it hobbled a minority party.

The Wisconsin plaintiffs’ attempt to break the logjam is a new standard, the efficiency gap. It is a numerical rating of parties’ “wasted” votes: those above the 50-percent-plus-1 needed to win a seat, and all votes cast in a loss. When the gap between the parties’ ratings exceeds a limit based on ratings from hundreds of past elections, the plaintiffs argue, the majority party should have to justify the boundaries it drew. Even then, plaintiffs would have to prove the party aimed to weaken the opposition.

 Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and lawyer for the plaintiffs, said four of the five most partisan state legislature maps in the last 45 years were drawn after 2010. CreditTaylor Glascock for The New York Times

The Wisconsin case underscores how modern gerrymanders, using computers and political and behavioral data, have become increasingly effective. Measured by the efficiency gap, four of the five most partisan state legislature maps in the last 45 years were drawn after 2010, said Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and lawyer for the plaintiffs.

In the House of Representatives, eight of the 10 most partisan maps were created after 2010, including Wisconsin’s and two in North Carolina.

One participant in the 2004 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, may prove the fulcrum in the court’s deliberations. In that case, he held out hope that the court could find a solution to extreme gerrymanders that political leaders were unable or unwilling to address.

“The ordered working of our Republic, and of the democratic process, depends on a sense of decorum and restraint in all branches of government, and in the citizenry itself,” he wrote then.

At a time of soaring concern over hyperpartisanship, those words could resonate. That sentence “is the most important line” in the court’s decision, said Edward B. Foley, director of the Election Law Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

If the Wisconsin statistical standards do not persuade the justices, other proposals are waiting in the wings. But some worry that the debate may be close to hitting the brick wall it avoided in 2004.

“If the court doesn’t endorse some version of what the three-judge panel decided” in Wisconsin, said Ellen D. Katz, a University of Michigan scholar of election law, “then it may be they’re never going to find a standard they’re comfortable applying.”

***

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

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RATF**KED

Our new selection is RATF**KED: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, by David Daley.

The book outlines in detail the plan hatched by the Republican Party after the 2008 election of President Obama to take control of key state legislatures in 2010 in order to be able to control the redistricting process.  As the author says in the introduction to the book:

This book is not an argument for Democratic control of Congress. Nor is it an apologia for a mushy, split-the-difference centrism, nor a history of the Voting Rights Act or the various Supreme Court cases which have brought us here. Those important stories have been well told by brilliant reporters and scholars. Rather, this is the story of how one election tilted our democracy in unforeseen ways, for the unforeseeable future. It is the story of how, in Karl Rove’s words, when you draw the lines, you make the rules. It is an argument that when our democratic institutions become separated from the popular will, they cease to be effective and democratic.”

 

From the KIRKUS REVIEW:

An alarming study of the GOP’s redrawing of the American political map across the country.

According to Salon editor-in-chief Daley, while Democrats were celebrating President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, they took their eyes off the important state legislatures, especially in key swing states. Subsequently, the defeated Republicans were already hatching nefarious plans to turn the “disaster into legislative majorities so unbreakable, so impregnable, that none of the outcomes are in doubt until after the 2020 census.” According to law, every state redraws its district lines every 10 years, after the census. Both parties use gerrymandering—named after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who redrew a state Senate map in 1812 so skewed it looked like a salamander—to their advantage, but with wildly more sophisticated mapping abilities, gerrymandering has become a “more lethal weapon.” Republican strategists initiated the Republican State Leadership Committee in order to raise millions of dollars for the Redistricting Majority Project, REDMAP, which would indicate where the money should be spent in order to bolster Republican candidates in Democratic-controlled state legislatures from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Michigan to Wisconsin, flip control of the chamber, lock in redistricting, and thus control Congress for the next decade. This political “dirty deed done dirt cheap” is called “ratfucking,” as designated by Edmund Wilson in the 1920s and used by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during the Watergate scandal. Indeed, this is just what happened after the midterm election of 2010, as the GOP captured 63 seats in the House of Representatives and 680 new seats in the state legislatures. Daley takes on each significant state race in turn and notes that despite the country’s pulling more center-left on many issues, the far right is going to be calling the shots until 2020. The author looks at the masterminds behind the strategy and the mapmaking technology as well as the roles of restrictive voting rights laws, “dark money,” and voter turnout.

A chilling intimation of the growing entrenchment of partisan politics.

 

***

You can pick up a copy of RATF**KED through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most local booksellers. The book is available in hard cover, paperback, and audiobook.

I think you will find the book compelling. I am looking forward to our exploration over the next several week.

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Poem and A Song

Today we wrap our celebration of National Poetry Month with two selections: a poem chosen by Alice Rydel and an original song by Joe Pickering, Jr.

Alice-pic-Florida

In selecting Before the Scales, Tomorrow, Alice shares:

Here’s to memories, friendships, audaciousness, love, activism, prickliness, differences, agreements, forward-thinkingness, organizing, fighting for a world of humanity in such an inhumane time.”


Before the Scales, Tomorrow

By: Otto Rene Castillo

And when the enthusiastic
story of our time
is told,
who are yet to be born
but announce themselves
with more generous face,
we will come out ahead
–those who have suffered most from it.

And that
being ahead of your time
means much suffering from it.
But it’s beautiful to love the world
with eyes
that have not yet
been born.

And splendid
to know yourself victorious
when all around you
it’s all still so cold,
so dark.

Alice Rydel is a builder of the All Stars Project’s Castillo Theatre and long-time activist with the independent political community.

***

Joe Pickering, Jr. shares his original Song, More American Then Plymouth Rock.

Give a listen, and the full lyrics are below.

MORE AMERICAN  THAN  PLYMOUTH ROCK

CHORUS

MORE AMERICAN  THAN  PLYMOUTH ROCK
THE STATUE OF LIBERTY CRIES  FOR NEW YORK
MILLIONS FIRST CAME ASHORE TO BE FREE
NOW NEW YORK’S JAILED IN A CLOSED PRIMARY 

VOTERS MUST CHOSE FROM THE PARTY SELECTION 
PARTY CANDIDATES FOR THE PARTYS PROTECTION
SAVE AMERICA SENATOR SCHUMER ONCE WROTE
SAVE NEW YORK FIRST ! LET INDEPENDENTS VOTE !

REPEAT CHORUS

END THE PARTISAN PRMARY SCHUMER PROPOSED
YEARS LATER, THEIR PRIMARY REMAINS CLOSED
POLITICIANS HEED THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
ALL YEARN TO BE FREE ! HELP VOTERS VOTE FREE

REPEAT CHORUS

INDEPENDENT VOTERS  STAND AND FIGHT 
HOUND THE LEGISLATURE ‘TIL THEY VOTE RIGHT
NEW YORKERS THE STATUE CRIES FOR THEE
DRY HER TEARS DEMAND THE OPEN PRIMARY

(repeat last line in last verse several times and fade.)

Joe Pickering Jr.. Songwriter  Harry King artist and producer  King of the Road Music BMI  C 2017

 Joe Pickering, Jr is the President of Mainers for Open Elections.

You can listen to More American Than Plymouth Rock here.
https://youtu.be/fCSQma7xz5c

 

***

OUR NEXT SELECTION:

 RATF**KED:

The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy 

By David Daley

Will kick off on Monday.

Our conference call with the author will be on Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST.

It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Like This

As National Poetry Month Continues at Politics for the People.

A poem by Mary Fridley

A poem I just wrote. The first line is something that my mom said to me when I first visited her after she went into a nursing home.”

 

It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Like This

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Said simply
No lament of pity
Though many tears
An indictment of life?
A grasp for honesty
by a now blurry mind?
A tribute to dreams once dreamed
or futures never imagined?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this
Perhaps a realization created
as much by an ever-shifting present
than a past regretted
Necessary to say aloud
Preparing for what’s ahead
To live as she can.

Mary Fridley serves as the coordinator of special programs for the East Side Institute.  She is an activist with the NYC Independence Club and lives in Brooklyn.

 

Roque Dalton

Nancy Hanks sent us two poems by Roque Dalton, the Salvadoran poet and revolutionary.

 

Nancy writes:

I love our struggle. The struggle of people — of all of us — for fairness and democracy, for bread and roses, for the power of the people. I love poetry. I love Roque Dalton’s poetry and appreciate him for bringing these human values together for us, and for putting his activity where his poetry was. I also love Roque Dalton because he was the progeny of American outlaws.”

 

roque dalton

Ars Poetica 1974

Poetry
pardon me for having helped you to understand
that you are not made of words alone.

 

And this second poem for all of the young people living through this awful and hopeful transition:”

 

You’ve Beaten Me

You’ve beaten me badly
your brutal fist in my face
(naked and chaste
as a flower where spring
dawns)

You’ve locked me up even more
with your furious eyes
my heart dying of cold
under the avalanche of hate

You’ve scorned my love
laughing at its small, bashful gift
not wanting to understand the labyrinths
of my tenderness

Now it’s my turn
turn of the offended after years of silence
in spite of the screams

Be quiet
be quiet

Listen

Nancy Hanks has been a longstanding builder of the independent movement. She is the founder of the Queens Independence Club.

Tomorrow we will be wrapping up our celebration of National Poetry month.  Stay tuned.

Patriot by Harry Kresky

Today’s poem was written by Harry Kresky

Harry Kresky at National Conference 2017

 

Patriot

Me?
An urban Jew –
A radical iconoclast.

An American.
Who can’t bear to see his country torn apart
By those who abandon us in pursuit of gotcha gold.

 

I wrote this poem in to response to the goings on in Washington since Trump was elected.  While I’m no fan of our President, I see the concerted efforts of the CIA, the liberal media and the Democratic Party to undo the result of an election as a threat to our democracy. The poem is also posted on my blog: poemsforfriends.wordpress.com

Harry Kresky is counsel to IndependentVoting.org and one of the country’s leading experts on nonpartisan primary reform and the legal issues facing independent voters.

 

A poem by Peter White

I wrote this some years ago but it’s still relevant!”

 

th_005

WHY I OCCUPY

Why I occupy
Let me tell you why
I am moved to really try
By a love force I cannot deny!

Every day I’m glad to be here
To see all the beauty and cheer
Unfortunately I can also see clear
And know that the End Game is near.

The Occupy movement gives me hope
That We the People will stop being a dope!
Humane change is possible if we cope
With politicians who are as slippery as soap.

The two Parties are a corrupt duopoly
They help the rich control their plutocracy
We cannot have a democracy
If more people are into a jockocracy!

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer
They get higher and mightier as we go lower.
Most elected Democrats and Republicans cower
To the ruling elite who have economic power.

We can teach the world to sing
In imperfect but loving harmony
With peace on earth being our symphony
Helping our neighbors in our community.

We each have a role to play
We have the freedom to have our say
We can live in the light and lead the way
To occupy our government and overcome some day!

Peter White is a long time activist in NH and a member of NH Independent Voters.

 

***

National Poetry Month 

At Politics for the People Continues

Do you have a favorite political poem that you would like to share? Is there an original poem you’ve written?  Please email me at cathy.stewart5@gmail.com with your suggestions for consideration.

A Poem by Dr. Fields

Today’s poem was written by Dr. Jessie Fields:

This is a poem I wrote in 2013 and was inspired to dedicate to a friend, Mary Fridley, who had just led a workshop on Love and Creativity.”

20170409_140710

Mary Fridley and Dr. Jessie Fields

Love and Friendship

Top notes sing, lift high and upright the fallen star

Of love and friendship wide, no meek prelude to hot embrace.

Romance praise of rhyme over rhyme far

Forever unceasing has not and never slackened the pace

Of violence, war and hate everywhere unwound.

Begin again, give what human life requires

To thrive in soul, health and beauty together bound

Workers, a community of people re-creating, a new becoming inspires.

Take down the old books, here is a muse to make

A new world. High history and love in the mad descending hours

Search and create all the ways a hard hand to shake

A cold eye to shine. Teach this love, it is ours.

Jump we humans quick to hate and no peace find

We forget our real preference is kind.

 

For Mary Fridley

July 13, 2013

 

~Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

 

***

National Poetry Month 

At Politics for the People

Continues

Do you have a favorite political poem that you would like to share? Is there an original poem you’ve written?  Please email me at cathy.stewart5@gmail.com with your suggestions for consideration.

I, Too

MM at national conference

Michelle McCleary (second from left) with Danny Ortega (l); John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries; Kathy Fiess and Carrie Sackett at the National Conference of Independents, NYC, March 2017

Today’s selection was chosen for us by Michelle McCleary.

One of my favorite poems is Langston Hughes’  I, Too.  I love the simple defiance and hope of it.

***

2015-02-02-LangstonHughes

 

 

I, Too  

By Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes.
But I laugh and eat well.
And grow strong

Tomorrow
I’ll be at the table
When company comes
Nobody’ll dare say to me
“Eat in the kitchen”
Then

Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed.

I, too am America.

 

***

National Poetry Month 

At Politics for the People

Continues

Do you have a favorite political poem that you would like to share? Is there an original poem you’ve written?  Please email me at cathy.stewart5@gmail.com with your suggestions for consideration.

From the Highline

Schenck-High-Line-Art-President-2016_10_10-DSC_8054

Zoe Leonard’s installation along the High Line, Manhattan. Photo: Timothy Schenck

June Hirsh sent us today’s selection– a poem written by the artist, Zoe Leonard.

Here is what June wrote about the poem:

I saw this poem as an installation posted on the side of a large brick wall on the High Line – it was weather beaten and all tattered. When I first read this poem, I was very touched and also disturbed.  Disturbed when it seems every regressive policy, every cut back, every attack on human rights, growing hunger, the abandonment of poor and working people – nationally and internationally – is being blamed on Trump and on the Republican Party. Then I saw this poem was dated 1992. Bi-partisan complicity – history and food for thought. The time is ripe–build the independent political movement! “

IMG_9240

***

National Poetry Month 

At Politics for the People

Continues

Do you have a favorite political poem that you would like to share? Is there an original poem you’ve written?  Please email me at cathy.stewart5@gmail.com with your suggestions for consideration.

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