Reader’s Forum–Dave Franklin and Call Tonight

This is our last Reader’s Forum before we go live tonight at 7 pm EST in conversation with David Daley, the author of RATF**KED: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy.  All the call in details are below.

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My introduction to independent politics began in 1992 with Dr. Lenora Fulani’s independent Presidential campaign. I worked on the campaign and was asked to run for Congress here in California.  I ran on the “Peace and Freedom” party ticket. This party was basically an old style left party that didn’t do much. They were pretty upset with me for running.  The only thing they liked about me was the fact I was a union members and shop steward. Otherwise, I was persona non grata. Before this, I was a democrat who realized that the party didn’t really respond to  working people’s issues.

Dr. Fulani’s campaign raised the lack of fairness in our elections. Throughout the years I have continued to support independent politics and Independent Voting’s various initiatives.  Here is CA, I have been active with Independent Voice, an association of independent voters focused on moving control of our elections from the political parties to the voters.  We were part of the coalitions that worked to pass nonpartisan elections in 2010 and nonpartisan redistricting reform. There twin reforms have been critical in giving all of CA’s 4.7 million independent voters the opportunity to vote in the primaries, creating more competitive elections and a far more functional state legislature.   It is not sufficient to have fair redistricting unless we have fair elections where all voters can participate.

I found the story of RATF**KED very insightful, but perhaps with too many statistics.

The current use of computer software to create new districts is interesting. The Republican Party’s plan to use redistricting to take over is amazing in that it worked and was successful.Redistricting as a strategy has been around for a long time. Both parties used it to their advantage.It’s only with the invention of new software that has created an easier path for the strategy. It only makes stealing elections and stealing democracy a click or two away. If you can’t win an election outright, then redistrict your way to a win. Corruption still looks like corruption, in both parties.

Our current strategy at Independent Voting looks promising. Organizing independents who are ignored by both parties and the media and working for truly nonpartisan reforms that focus on empowering all voters.

Speaking of strategy, I highly recommend reading the new book, Refinery Town: Big Oil,  Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, by Steve Early. This is the story of my town where I have lived for almost 40 years. The Green Party came to Richmond California in the early 2000’s. They organized the old fashioned way. Door-to door. Person-by person. The city of 100,000 is one the poorest in the bay area. Also the most diverse. Chevron, on the biggest oil companies has run the town for almost 100 years. The local politicians,mostly democrat’s have been paid off by Chevron for almost the same amount of time.

After 2-3 years of serious grass-roots organizing the Green Party ran a slate for mayor and city council that was elected. The new mayor, Gayle McLaughlin cleaned house and brought new and progressive leadership to our city. It was a deeply entrenched, deeply corrupted city. Bought and paid for by Chevron. Gayle brought in a new police chief from Fargo North Dakota , who also cleaned house. With the city near bankruptcy, she hired an new city manager. Now, 10 years later, Richmond has a experienced a turn-around. Poverty is still here, as is crime. But, now there are serious programs addressing these issues. Chevron is now ponying up it’s fair share to maintain these programs and the city of Richmond. For years they were able to find tax loopholes in the local taxes and exploit them

I am looking forward to our conversation with David Daley tonight.

Dave Franklin lives in CA and is a long time independent activist.

 

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

TONIGHT

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

 

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Reader’s Forum—Tiani Coleman

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In the book Ratf**ked:  The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, by David Daley, we get behind-the-scenes insights into how we’ve arrived at such a partisan, polarized Congress, where the American People are its victims.  The book is a piece of investigative journalism, wherein we’re able to witness how the Republicans were able to more than counteract the Democratic wave of 2008; when Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans were afraid that demographic trends, combined with Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress would leave Republicans in the dust.  But Republicans hatched a plan, called REDMAP, that changed everything for at least a decade, if not more.   While all eyes were on Washington, Republicans (through the Republican State Leadership Committee – RSLC) were raising a lot of big money and putting it into relatively inexpensive, targeted state house, senate and governor races, knowing that the Census of 2010 would bring on new redistricting, and if they could get control – at the state level — of redistricting (the reapportionment and drawing of boundaries for U.S. House Districts), they could regain control of Congress.  It worked beyond their wildest dreams, even with unintended consequences.

The book provides example after example, of how this was done.   In PA, for example, in 2008, their U.S. House seats were 12-7 for Democrats.  In 2010, it flipped 12-7 for Republicans, and the Republican majority grew to 13-5 in 2012.  But in 2012, “Obama won 52% of the vote [in PA]; Democratic house candidates won 51 percent of the vote[,but only] . . . 28% of the seats.”  In NC, Democrats entered the 2012 election with 7/13 seats, and even though they won 50.6% of the votes, the Republicans took 9/13 seats, which became 10/13 in 2014.  This was done across the country by using the Voting Rights Act as a reason to pack minorities into the same district.  Some people think that’s just the way it is, with minorities and Democrats in higher population centers, but when you look at the extremely crazy district lines, you recognize that it’s a very deliberate attempt at getting certain political outcomes by compacting the Democrats and spreading Republicans out among many low-Democrat districts.  It gave Democrats some ultra-safe Districts where they wouldn’t have to pay any attention to anyone other than their base, and it usually resulted in some Republican safe Districts, as well as Republican-leaning districts.  No wonder why so many people feel like their vote doesn’t count.  It doesn’t!  If you’re part of a supermajority in a safe district, your vote is being wasted on voting for someone who will win anyway; you can’t use it to try to help someone win in a close race; and if you’re in the minority in a supermajority safe district, your vote will never change the outcome.

Daley shows how redistricting has caused the American “middle” to collapse.  The districts are so lopsided that the middle doesn’t matter.  Of all 435 seats in Congress, only a few dozen are competitive.  This means that the only real challenge candidates face happens in the primaries, where ideological partisans fight to convince rancorous partisans that they are the most liberal, in the case of the Democrats, or the most conservative in the case of the Republicans.  So the members of the House have become extremely polarized, only responding to its extremes.  They go in with their minds made up and will only be punished for cooperating amongst competing interests.  The Republican leadership at the time REDMAP was formed seemed to have helped create an uncontrollable monster that ultimately toppled many of them, too.  Moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats are an endangered species now.

Redistricting is currently before the Supreme Court.  In North Carolina, gerrymandered districts were recently struck down for being race-based.  The Supreme Court will soon hear a Wisconsin case to determine if the Court can find a standard to strike down gerrymandered districts for being partisan-based.  With the technology we have at our disposal, it looks like it may be possible to enact a standard, according to an efficiency gap, or deviations between the vote totals and the districts created, as well as showing that the districts created are against all odds that they aren’t a deliberate attempt at getting political, pre-determined results.  If not, we’ve really got to change things so that redistricting can’t continue to destroy our Democracy.  But even if the Court finds a standard, it will help, but won’t completely solve the problem.  While the book showed that moves towards a more independent process, such as independent redistricting commissions, help a little, they still have a lot of partisan interference behind the scenes, and even when they’re caught, the solutions are less than fair.

Larry Lessig is quoted as saying, “political corruption denies a basic equality:  the equality of the citizens.  Once you see equality as the flaw, then it’s obvious what the bugs are.”  I feel like I’m an independent because I finally saw equality – or inequality – as the flaw.  In my opinion, as long as we allow parties to control our elections, and the majority winners to get the spoils of chairmanships, committees, redistricting privileges, multitudes of appointments, fundraising advantages, etc., our government will always be about which party is in power.  The book pointed how the Democrats plan to try to replicate what the Republicans have done, instead of working to change the system!  If we really want to give equality to the citizens, we need to give all voters an equal say in the election process, even when they don’t belong to a party.  This not only means creating districts that are as competitive as possible, but it means having preliminary elections where voters and candidates who are not part of the two major parties aren’t shut out, but have an equal voice and role.  The role of polarization and partisanship could change quite a bit with nonpartisan primaries.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Tiani recently had an oped published n the Concord Monitor entitled, “Voters shouldn’t ignore what the parties are doing–we need reform”.

*Reminder*

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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Queens’ Reader’s Forum

Today’s Reader’s Forum features commentary from two P4P members from Queens.

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RICHARD RONNER

RATF**KED: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy, by David Daley, reads like a sophisticated political thriller, with great characters, suspenseful strategizing, and brilliant, offensive (in both senses of the word) tactics. What’s jarring, though, is that it’s a true story – about us, the American people, and the ongoing assault and trampling of our democracy. I found reading this book an emotional experience – initially disheartening and infuriating, at the level of corruption and moral bankruptcy of large parts of our governing class. I repeatedly reminded myself that all this is not a surprise, that I have known about this in theory and in its broad outlines, but it still packs a punch, being confronted with the details and calculating methods, and the personalities involved.

But the second, more considered emotion, was one of optimism and hope – there are great exposings going on these days; we need to know how these things work, we need to know sensually why and precisely how our votes don’t translate to our power. It reminds me of the experience following Hurricane Katrina, when the effects of the racism in the fabric of our society was visible for all to see in the coverage of the storm’s aftermath in New Orleans. Of course, I also believe that without ways of acting on this information, it will not remain in our consciousness for long. But the exposing, the pulling back of the curtain to reveal the inner mechanisms, is a good, if sobering, thing.

An overall reservation I have about the book, is that I find it still partisan, in the distinctions made between the two parties. Whether the Democrats were too busy partying, or caught sleeping after Obama’s election in 2008 while Redmap was being hatched, or whether they were calculating on whole other level, I don’t know, and we may have to wait for another book to discover. I don’t really buy that one party is a whole lot smarter than the other. In some respects, I attribute the success of some agendas over others to the more creative and practical activism of some segments of the population compared with others. But this is a book about the parties and how they work. Others will have to write on the role of the grassroots in this effort.

Richard Ronner is a nurse practitioner and a long time independent activist. He is active with the NYC Independence Clubs.

 

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NANCY HANKS

“America has got to be more than its Parties and Americans have got to be more than party pawns,” says Natesha Oliver in her review of Dave Daley’s book, RATF**KED: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy.  I agree — Americans must be more than party pawns. But will we? And how? We’re Ratfucked — or we develop.

I was a kid when  they did away with the poll tax, born and raised in the mid-1950s-early ’60s in northeast Arkansas. I cast my first vote in 1972 at age 18 in Richmond VA (the US Supreme Court had just lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 through the 26th Amendment to the Constitution) for George McGovern.

My first vote was a hopeful, if youthful, and defiant anti-war vote. Little did I suspect that I would spend my whole adult life working at the grassroots for ordinary people on behalf of voting rights, with Cathy Stewart, Fred Newman, Lenora Fulani and many many others.

Dave Daley’s RATF**KED led me to my bookcase to leaf through an earlier book with a similar theme: Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America (1973) by Walter Karp. Writing of Lyndon Johnson’s failed Great Society, Karp says

 “… there is a political reason for a reform President frustrating his own pledged reforms. It is none other than the ruling political principle in modern American politics-the preservation of party power, that power whose sole foundation is organization control of the political parties…. the essential and inherent danger to party power is independent political ambition, the presence in public life and public office of men who ignore the interests and defy the dictates of party bosses and oligarchies. To preserve their power, party organizations must try constantly to eliminate the political condition that breeds independent ambition. That condition, in general, is the free political activity of the citizens themselves, their own efforts to act in their own behalf, to bring into the public arena issues that interest them and to encourage their activity the independent ambition of public men. The political activity of the citizenry, whether within or without the major parties, whether it be as local as a village election, is always a danger to organization control of parties, and precisely because it strengthens independent ambition. There is in this Republic, however, one great wellspring animating citizens to act in their own behalf: their own understanding that by means of politics and government what is wrong can be righted and what is ill can be cured. In a word, political hope.”

I’m grateful to Dave Daley for his current insight and spotting the Bullsh*t  that serves the powers that be. We don’t need them. We the American people don’t need this kind of political supervision. We need to develop.

Independently yours,

Nancy Hanks.

PS – Our next Queens Quarterly Gathering is this Sunday, June 4th, 6-9PM, the Politics for the People conference call.

Nancy Hanks is an independent activist and the coordinator of the Queens Independence Club.

*Reminder*

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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Reader’s Forum–Julie Leak

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After Bernie was out and I expressed support for Jill Stein one of my FB friends responded, “you’re a neophyte, she can’t win.”  We had different definitions of winning.  With regard to gerrymandering I had a basic understanding of the dictionary definition:  the practice of manipulating boundaries to gain a political advantage for a particular party or group.

When I heard we were reading RATF**KED it reminded me of a personal experience.  I was working on the health care issue with a group of activists, Private Health Insurance Must Go.  I had never visited a congressperson (remember, a real neophyte).  By the way, I vote by absentee in North Carolina.  Never expected to be in New York long term and thought my vote counted more down there.  On one occasion while in Raleigh I decided to visit my congressperson, Brad Miller, Democrat, to discuss single payer. He was not available so I spoke with a staff person.  A few years later I returned to visit again and to my surprise was told “he had been gerrymandered out.”  As noted, I understood the basic definition, but it really struck home just what the concept not only meant but how it played out in our political lives.  I don’t know the exact timing but he served from 2003 to 2012 in the 13th congressional district.  Mr. Daley confirms in Chapter 3:  “One by one, white, moderate Southern Democrats were pushed aside and replaced by much more conservative Republicans.  National names including Brad Miller. . .by 2014 all of them either decided not to run again or went down to defeat.”  The racial gerrymandering in North Carolina was described by the court as “almost surgical precision” in the way it discriminated against certain voters.  Needless to say, Ratf**ked has laid this out so even a neophyte can get it!  If it took three decades to implement as noted in the last paragraph; so, for sure I will not be here to see it reversed.  Meanwhile I will learn what I can and do whatever possible in the interim.  I appreciate the book, the opportunity to learn and to have this discussion.

Juliette Leak lives in Manhattan and describes herself  as “an Independent finding her voice”.  She is active with the New York City Independence Clubs.

 

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*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

Reader’s Forum–Natesha Oliver

Natesha Oliver

Natesha Oliver on Primary Day in Missouri

 

Ratf**ked by David Daley is a “in Your face” hard reality about a major aspect of our political process. Drawing district lines seems to be just as important as voting itself or should I say the understanding of and the careful watching of how district lines are drawn should be just as important as the discussion of how we vote.

When I first heard the term “redistricting” I was in Mississippi and naturally assumed the issue stemmed from stopping the African American vote. I don’t doubt there was a time when that was probably the case but now it looks pretty damn clear that it’s not about stopping a race of people, although it is still about maintaining political control for a small group of people.

Just because Republicans got more brazen in their “unethical, dont understand how its not criminal” strategizing doesn’t negate the fact that both parties play this type of “game”.

Reading this book is infuriating!!! And I’m not talking about the need to vent type of thing, I’m talking about how can our Government continue to operate with impunity when it come to holding these Parties/Elected officials fully accountable?

It’s a dead democracy when those entrusted to uphold the moral sanctity, if You will, of politics are the very ones breaking the freaking laws of democracy.  The parties keep “isms” afloat just enough to keep Americans targeting one another instead of them, the parties.

To hear it from people participating in the ratfucking process like it’s just business, blows My mind. What parties do and the money they spend to ensure they keep an upper hand is ridiculous, it’s like witnessing a bunch of undisciplined children with no regard of how their actions actually affect life and considering we live in a “better You then Me” type of culture, Americans have to take some responsibility in the decaying of our electoral process and our democracy.

Money may be a factor yet if there was no one to “buy off” then would money be an issue?

Parties are the demise of good government, maybe it hasn’t always been the case but there can be no argument that that is the case now, and Party supporters at some point have to reevaluate the role they play in this demise when they continue to allow their Party to operate without being checked.

America has got to be more than it’s Parties and Americans have got to be more than party pawns.

Natesha Oliver is the founder of MIST, Missouri Independents Stand Together. She lives in Kansas City.

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*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

Reader’s Forum–Lou Hinman

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In Ratf**ked, David Daley tells, in vivid and painful detail, how the Republican Party, planning for the reapportionment that would follow the 2010 census, hatched a plan that would give them a crucial edge in the state legislatures that would carry out the redistricting.  They were so successful that they were able to control the gerrymandering of enough congressional districts to create a very probable Republican congressional majority until the 2020 census.

Gerrymandering was not new.  Almost from the beginning of two-party politics in the United States, gerrymandering has been used by both parties to make particular districts uncompetitive (“safe,” that is, for one of the parties or the other).  What was new was the novel idea of targeting particular state legislatures, and well laid plans to get a very slim party majority in them in advance of redistricting.

It may well be that the Republicans violated the gentlemen’s agreement with the Democrats about how this game was supposed to be played.  However, I feel that Ratf**ked makes too much of the Machiavellian ruthlessness of the Republicans, and is correspondingly too soft on the Democrats.  To me, it defies belief that Democrats were just too innocent to know how bad the Republicans were, or that they simply got caught napping.

Here’s why.

The Democratic Party’s calling card is that they are “the party of the common man.”  But since their main allegiance is to the shared control of the political process, they are careful not to get too strong.  If they were to get too strong, a few embarrassing questions could be asked about why they are not more effective in serving “the common man.”  If those mean and nasty Republicans get too strong – well, what can you do, they just don’t play fair!  (For more on this neglected subject, be sure to read Indispensable Enemies by Walter Karp.)

Not getting too strong demands, above all, not mobilizing their base.  So for example, when the Tea Party was busy organizing “town meetings” to oppose Obamacare, you might have thought the Democratic Party would have organized a few of the 38 million people who had no health insurance into town meetings of their own.  Of course, they did nothing of the kind.  For the Democratic Party, the mobilization of it’s base is to be avoided like the plague, because they may not be able to control it.

Similarly, if the Democratic Party were to get into a brawl with the Republicans over gerrymandering, it would weaken the Democratic machine in at least two ways.  First, they might actually win!  This would put pressure on them to use their increased power on behalf of “the common people” they are supposed to represent.  Second, even if they didn’t win it would turn over the rock under which gerrymandering and other manipulations by the two political machines thrive – about which the less said the better!

Finally, the Democratic Party is plenty ruthless when it comes to attacking insurgents in their own party (ask Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders) or independents (ask Lenora Fulani).

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

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*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

The Big Picture

The Big Picture RT

 

In June of 216, Thom Hartmann’s interviewed with David Daley on The Big Picture on RT America.  Good overview of the basics outlined in RATF**KED: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy.  Take a look.

(If you cannot see the video, click here to view on line.)

At the end of the show Dave and Thom have the following exchange:

When you have our democratic institutions that aren’t responsive to the ballot box, you have to ask if they are even democratic institutions anymore.”  Dave Daley

“Right, as in small d democratic. And that is reflected in the frustration of the people. And that is reflected in these insurgent campaigns on left and right–of Bernie and Trump and everything else. Boy, what a mess.”  Thom Hartmann

I am looking forward to our conversation with Dave next month.  We’ll be exploring gerrymandering and how the REDMAP plan fits in with the party uber alles framework that has run amok in American democracy.  A framework that effectively works to exclude and minimize the voice of the American people, especially independents who are now 44% of the electorate. The issue we face and work on every day, is how can the American people regain control over our democracy.

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

 

 

David Daley on NPR’s Fresh Air

POLITICS

Understanding Congressional Gerrymandering: ‘It’s Moneyball Applied To Politics’

June 15, 2016    1:36 PM ET

Ratf**ked author David Daley says that Republicans targeted key state legislative races in 2010 in an effort to control state houses, and, eventually, Congressional redistricting. Radio Show Image

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/482150951/482182856

Below is the full transcript of the show, for those of you who would like to read it.

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

 

DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who’s off this week. Our guest today, Salon’s editor-in-chief David Daley, has a new book that he says began with a simple question. When President Obama won re-election in 2012 and a Democratic tide gave the party a big majority in the Senate, why did the House of Representatives remain firmly in Republican hands? The result was even more striking since voters cast 1.3 million more ballots for Democratic House candidates than Republican ones.

The answer, Daley decided, was effective gerrymandering of House districts following the 2010 census. And it’s state legislatures that draw most of the congressional boundaries across the country. The result of Daley’s research is his new book, which details an effort by Republican strategists to put money and campaign resources into targeted state legislative races in key states in 2010, so Republicans could control the statehouses and control congressional redistricting. Daley’s book has a title I can’t say on the radio. It refers to a crude term for a political dirty deed done cheaply. I’ll approximate the title as “Rat-bleeped: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy” [Actual book title is “Rat-F*****: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy.”]

Well, David Daley, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, it’s interesting that Republican control of Congress kind of feels like an ironclad reality of politics these days. But, you know, you remind us that in the election of 2008, when Barack Obama took the White House, the congressional picture was very different. Remind us of that election and where the Republican Party stood not so long ago.

DAVID DALEY: If you go back and watch the tapes from election night, the smartest minds in the Republican Party are despairing on television. They are trying to understand where all the Republican voters went. The Republicans realized that they were staring down a demographic tidal wave, that the nature of the electorate was changing and the Democrats were talking about a coalition of the ascendant and looking at a decade of changing politics. The Democrats took a super majority in the Senate – we forget – and how quickly it all changed.

DAVIES: Right. The Democrats then had a 60-plus-seat majority in the House of Representatives. And you write about a Republican strategist named Chris Jankowski. Tell us about him and what he saw as a way back.

DALEY: Chris Jankowski is one of the brightest strategists in the Republican Party. And what he saw was how the Republicans could make their way back state-by-state. Jankowski runs something called the Republican State Leadership Committee. And he has a eureka moment in 2009 when he realizes that the following year is a year that ends in zero and that elections at the end of a decade reverberate across the course of the next decade because of the redistricting which follows every census.

And Jankowski has got connections in statehouses across the country. And he realizes that if they can raise enough money that they can go in state-by-state and do battle – not on the presidential level but in specific statehouse and state Senate districts around the country – redo the maps in the following year if they’re able to win, and they’ve built themselves a firewall for the next 10 years.

DAVIES: And the critical link here, of course, is that in most states, it’s the state legislature that draws the congressional boundaries. They do the redistricting after each census. So he’s getting at Congress by going to statehouse and state Senate seats often little-known to voters. This was called Operation RedMap. Explain the idea.

DALEY: The idea was that you could take a state like Ohio, for example. In 2008, the Democrats held a majority in the statehouse of 53-46. What RedMap does is they identify and target six specific statehouse seats. They spend $1 million on these races, which is an unheard of amount of money coming into a statehouse race. Republicans win five of these. They take control of the Statehouse in Ohio – also, the state Senate that year. And it gives them, essentially, a veto-proof run of the entire re-districting in the state.

So in 2012, when Barack Obama wins again and he wins Ohio again, and Sherrod Brown is re-elected to the Senate by 325,000 votes, the Democrats get more votes in statehouse races than the Republicans. But the lines were drawn so perfectly that the Republicans held a 60-39 supermajority in the House of Representatives, despite having fewer votes.

DAVIES: That’s a 60-39 majority in the Ohio Statehouse.

DALEY: In the Ohio Statehouse that is drawing these lines. And the congressional delegation – Ohio has a 16-seat congressional delegation – 12-4 Republicans. So I began to unravel how this had happened – how the House stays in Republican hands after 2012 because all of these blue and purple states are sending delegations to Congress that are 12-4 Republican or in the case of Pennsylvania, 13-5 Republican, even though these are blue states that voted for Barack Obama and that often voted for more Democratic candidates in the aggregate than Republicans.

DAVIES: All right. Well, let’s talk about the efforts in statehouse races. Now, the idea of representative democracy and state legislatures is that state representatives and state senators are chosen by local voters to represent their interest and generally funded by local interests or, in some cases, state party interests. This is a little different, isn’t it, in bringing lots of national money to statehouse races? Describe the impact of national money coming into a statehouse race.

DALEY: It is more money than these races usually see. It can be a hundred percent of the budget that these candidates thought they were going to have to spend or imagined that they would face from an opponent. What Jankowski and his team did is they spent almost two thirds of this money in the last six weeks of the 2010 campaign. So these candidates not only never saw it coming, they didn’t have time to respond. Suddenly, every day in these small races in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Ohio, national Republican dollars are targeting state legislators. And they are pulling out four, six, eight-page, full-color mailers out of their mailboxes every day for the last three weeks of this campaign, and they couldn’t believe what hit them and they had no means of responding to it.

DAVIES: Right, and these are mailers from a national Republican organization, and they’re not making the case that, hey, we need to have a Republican legislature so we can have a Republican Congress. They are very localized attacks on the Democrats. And you write about – I think the first specific case you write about is a guy in Pennsylvania, 20-year Democratic legislator named Dave Levdansky. Tell us his story.

DALEY: He represents a district out of Elizabeth, Pa., which is a steel-working community not far outside of Pittsburgh, very small town. He grew up there. His family had been there for years. He’d been re-elected every year since 1984. Had risen to a pretty authoritative position in Harrisburg, the state capital on finance issues. And I went to meet him, and he pulled out his folder of all of these mailers. And he just looked at me and said, I wouldn’t have voted for myself either if I was getting all of this stuff. And they were brutal attacks and misleading attacks. And they were deeply poll-tested and focus grouped in order to try to find the silver bullet that would take out these small-town guys.

What people don’t understand is that control of the Pennsylvania House was very, very tight that year. The Democrats had it by a nose. So if you could go in and spend just enough money to take out four or five guys, which was the goal, you could flip this for a song. This isn’t just brilliant politics. It’s Moneyball applied to politics because they got a bargain here.

DAVIES: Do you recall some of the mailings that were aimed at Dave Levdansky and, you know, what they said about him?

DALEY: The silver bullet that they found – and when I sat down with Jankowski, he remembered it really well – was something called the Arlen Specter Library. Arlen Specter was a senator of Pennsylvania, a longtime senator who had been a Republican and in recent years had just – I believe right after the 2008 election, he switches parties, becomes a Democrat. He was not the most popular politician in the state of Pennsylvania at that point in time, especially in the western part of the state, as he was from the Philadelphia area.

So there was a capital budget of about $600 million that the Pennsylvania House passes. What Jankowski and the RSLC did – and they – focus grouped and looked and looked trying to find the exact issue that would take out Levdansky. And when they told people that he had spent $600 million on a library for Arlen Specter, it outraged voters. And this was a difficult economic year. The recovery had still not come back around entirely. The small towns around Pittsburgh were hard hit, and they didn’t like the idea that their state legislator had authorized $600 million for an Arlen Specter Library.

And these mailers made it out to be this big marble monstrosity. And in reality, about $2 million of that entire capital budget was actually allocated for a Specter Library. And it was, you know, on a college campus to house his papers. And this was a significant, you know, player in the state’s political history. This was an educational institution grant, but it was turned into something that when Levdansky would walk into homes, people who he had known for years would say, I’m sorry, Dave, but I can’t vote for you this year because of the Arlen Specter Library.

DAVIES: So this was a legislator’s routine vote on a budget that included many, many, many, many things, and they pick out this one. Have to say, you see this a lot in political campaigns. But was…

DALEY: You do.

DAVIES: Yeah, but very effective in this case.

DALEY: Very effective.

DAVIES: So Dave Levdan – the – this national Republican group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, spends a couple-hundred thousand dollars, a dozen mailers or so and Levdansky loses by how much to a relatively unknown Republican?

DALEY: He loses by about 140 votes. It’s that close. And those mailers and that money made the difference. The Republicans take control of the Pennsylvania House. They take control of the Senate. They elect a Republican governor in Corbett that year and they own all three legs of the redistricting process. So as a result, you come back in 2012 and Obama wins the state by 310,000. There are a hundred-thousand more votes for Democratic House candidates than there are for Republicans.

DAVIES: That’s Congressional House candidates, yeah.

DALEY: Yes. Republicans take the delegation 13-5. And that means 51 percent of the vote turns out to 28 percent of the seats. That’s a real problem for a participatory democracy.

DAVIES: Chris Jankowski did not dodge your phone calls. He was proud to talk about this, wasn’t he?

DALEY: It’s the greatest political achievement in modern times. It’s the greatest political bargain, I think, that they are very proud of what they managed to do. I think if you’re a Republican, you look at this and say, boy, this was effective, it was efficient and we won. We played by the rules. We changed the rules, but we still played by the law and the game. And if the Democrats weren’t smart enough to figure this out themselves, well, see you in 2020, boys.

DAVIES: We’re speaking with David Daley. He is editor-in-chief of Salon. He has a new book about Republican efforts in the 2010 election to target state legislative seats, giving the party an advantage in Congressional redistricting. We’ll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we’re speaking with David Daley. He is editor-in-chief of Salon. He has a new book about Republican efforts in the 2010 election to target state legislative seats and thereby gain a huge advantage in congressional redistricting, which he says made a big difference in Republican representation in Congress. So we’ve been talking about this effort by this group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, to put not huge amounts of money, but enough money to make a difference in a few dozen state legislative races, hoping that Republicans could then control statehouses, and after the 2010 census draw the new congressional lines. OK, so take us inside this. Pick a state and talk about the redistricting process and how this made a difference.

DALEY: There are two prongs of this effort. The first prong, of course, is winning these races in 2010. Then in 2011, you have to be ready to redraw the maps. And what the Republicans were able to do in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and Michigan and Florida and Wisconsin was move the redistricting process deep behind closed doors and use redistricting as a blunt force partisan weapon in a way that it had not been all the way back to the first gerrymander in 1790.

So in Wisconsin, the operatives working on redistricting barricaded themselves into a law firm across the street from the Capitol and tried to claim attorney-client privilege for all of the negotiations and mapmaking that were going on. And they even made Republican members of the legislature there sign a nondisclosure agreement if they wanted access to the room. In North Carolina, they bring in a master mapmaker named Tom Hofeller, who is probably better at jiggering and rejiggering district lines than anybody. And they draw maps in North Carolina that give Republicans a 10-3 advantage on the congressional side.

And Hofeller has a presentation that he gives when he goes to talk to state legislatures, and it is all about secrecy and privacy. You do not fire the staff until you are completely sure that redistricting is done. You do not walk away from your computer and leave anything showing on it ever. You remember exactly what kind of legal hell one false email can put you in. It is as if he is training master spies in espionage and not, you know, drawing the lines that make up the fundamental building blocks of our democracy.

DAVIES: Right. And of course, we want to remind people the reason people are drawing congressional boundaries in hotel rooms and in secret is because typically, the lines are done by acts of state legislatures. And a lot of state legislation is drafted privately before it’s voted on. So in the end, you know, lawmakers do cast a vote, the votes are recorded, it’s signed by the governor. It’s a bill that conforms to rules of legislative procedure. But the real stuff gets done privately?

DALEY: Exactly.

DAVIES: Now, you know, gerrymandering isn’t new. And I don’t think politicians before 2010 were, like, totally benign in their use of…

DALEY: They certainly were not.

DAVIES: …Of this subject. So why was it so much more effective or aggressive in 2010? Is part of it technology?

DALEY: I think technology is almost all of it. Citizens United and the money that comes into the system is a piece of it. The really ingenious plan that Jankowski devises is part of it. But it’s the technology that makes these lines so precise and impregnable right now.

There’s a program called Maptitude that is used by lawmakers and operatives in just about every state who are working on redistricting. And I had someone who was involved in the redistricting in Arizona show me how it works. And there is more information available through Maptitude that – when you look at a congressional map and you say, boy, the shape of that is very strange. There is a reason behind each and every one of those curves. Every little jut and turn that on a map you say, I don’t know why that could possibly be there, a mapmaker knows why it’s there.

With Maptitude, it is fully loaded with just about every census information, with economic information, with every precinct-by-precinct results of elections all the way down ballot going back for years. And you can draw these lines with complete knowledge of how they will respond now. And the difference, frankly, between 2000 and 2010 – I mean, think of the way we texted in 2000. We didn’t have a keyboard on our phones. We used a number pad essentially to, you know, find a letter. Redistricting in 1990 and 2000, it was still horse and buggy. It becomes a rocket ship in 2010, thanks to computing power.

DAVIES: When this is done, when you look at some of these districts on a map, what do the shapes look like?

DALEY: They are incredibly strange. There’s a district in Michigan that I went out and drove every turn of between Detroit and Pontiac. It’s Michigan’s 14th. And it goes about 135 miles, and it takes you all day to, you know, go turn by turn. What you see first is that this is a district designed to connect the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit with the poorest neighborhoods in Pontiac so that you can put as many African-American voters into one district, make it a district that elects a Democrat with about 75 or 80 percent of the vote. And then all of the neighboring suburban districts as a result are more Republican. And as you take these turns, time and again over the course of the day, I would look at the map and say boy, there’s an interesting turn right here. There’s an interesting notch here. And every single time, there was a reason.

DAVIES: And the reason was to pack all the Democrats in that district so they wouldn’t weaken Republicans in surrounding districts.

DALEY: Yes.

DAVIES: David Daley has a new book about the 2010 elections and redistricting. After a break, he’ll assess the Democrats’ efforts in that election. Also, Maureen Corrigan will tell us about Susan Faludi’s new memoir. And jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews drummer Matt Wilson’s new album. I’m Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who’s off this week. We are speaking with Salon’s editor-in-chief David Daley. His new book focuses on Republican efforts to win key state legislative races in the 2010 elections so they could control statehouses that would redraw congressional boundaries. The result, Daley argues, was gerrymandering, which kept Republicans in control of the House of Representatives.

Now, Democrats aren’t stupid, and they’ve been involved in redistricting for a long, long time. Where were the Democrats when all this was happening, when the Republicans were targeting these state legislative seats? Did they – were they just…

DALEY: They fell asleep at the wheel. This was a catastrophic strategic failure by the Democratic Party. Chris Jankowski tells me that throughout the fall of 2010, he’s out in the field and he can’t believe that the Democrats aren’t out there spending any money. The Democrats never saw this coming, and it’s political malpractice because the Republican Party announced their plans in big bright flashing neon lights.

In an op-ed piece in March 2010 in The Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove says we are going to use redistricting this year to take back the Congress. It was announced. It was not hidden. I don’t know if the Democratic leadership simply doesn’t read The Wall Street Journal, but it was right there. Steve Israel, who led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after the debacle of 2010 for Democratic Party, tells me that the Democratic National Committee simply whistled past the graveyard.

DAVIES: And in states where Democrats did control the statehouse – Maryland, Illinois – when redistricting occurred, did they do the same things? Did they gerrymander the lines so as to benefit their party?

DALEY: There are two examples of where Democrats did effectively gerrymander after 2010, and it is in Maryland and it’s in Illinois. And what the Republicans were able to do which is a little bit different is they were able to take states that were blue or purple and make them bright red. And that to me seems to be the difference. You can look at Maryland and say that there’s probably one or maybe two more seats that the Democrats control that they wouldn’t have had if you apportion seats based on the popular vote. But it’s certainly not as egregious as a state like Pennsylvania, where you have a majority of voters ending up with, you know, fewer than 30 percent of the seats.

DAVIES: You go around the country and look at what’s happening on this issue, and it seems you find some encouraging developments, people taking another look at redistricting methods. What do you see?

DALEY: I think that members of both parties want our votes to counts, and we want the system to work. And we’re aware that things aren’t quite working. And when you look at the kind of referendums that have passed on redistricting in red states and in blue states – in Florida, in Arizona, in California, in Ohio – it’s a sign that people understand that our democracy isn’t working. When you put a referendum about nonpartisan redistricting on the ballot, it wins. People fundamentally understand questions of fairness.

DAVIES: And in those states where they have passed, how have things changed?

DALEY: Well, commissions sometimes work and sometimes don’t work.

DAVIES: That is to say taking redistricting out of the legislature and putting it in the hands of an appointed commission, is that what that means?

DALEY: That’s exactly right. You can look at Arizona, which is a case that went to the Supreme Court. And that commission was upheld, its constitutionality. But it’s basic functioning – there’s a lot of questions about whether the partisanship simply seeped back in a secret, hidden way and whether the politicians simply found another way to game that system. Once it was taken out of the legislators’ hands, it stayed in the hands of the operatives.

In Florida, certainly, what you saw was an effort by Republican strategists in the state to conduct a shadow redistricting process in violation of the fair districts referendum. But the beauty of that was that because the referendum had been passed, good government groups in Florida were able to file a lawsuit, and in the discovery process unearthed a trove of emails showing exactly what had happened. And a number of those districts have had to be redrawn.

DAVIES: You know, the Supreme Court has pretty much ruled out interveening to reverse cases of partisan gerrymandering, where it’s simply about benefiting a political party. It’s been different for racial gerrymandering, and there are active cases. And I wonder if in effect the Voting Rights Act and other statutes that affect racial gerrymandering are the real arena for these fights. There are several active cases now, some in Virginia, I think, that deal with racial gerrymandering. What are we looking at?

DALEY: Well, I think that again is exactly right. Most of these cases really have their roots in what was called the unholy alliance between African-Americans in the South, Democrats who wanted to increase their representation and Republicans who wanted to turn the South into the solid South. And these efforts began in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. And that was the redistricting battle in those days. It was about a deal between African-Americans to increase their ranks in Congress and Republicans who wanted to increase their numbers as well. And it worked very well for both sides in that you grew the largest Congressional Black Caucus since the days of Reconstruction. But at the same time, Republicans took over all the rest of those states.

DAVIES: And the reason that alliance benefited both sides was that they drew the boundaries so that black voters were packed into a small number of districts, almost certain to elect black representatives.

DALEY: They could elect their own leaders. And if you are an African-American leader in the South, then you have been a key part of the Democratic constituency. But the constituency in Congress is all essentially white Democrats. It makes an awful lot of sense to try to find a way to increase representation. That came at a cost to the party.

DAVIES: And why would that be? Why would creating largely black districts cost the party congressional seats?

DALEY: Because it packed all of the Democrats into a handful of majority-minority districts. So what you see in North Carolina, for example, is after these new districts went into play in the early 1990s, the delegation suddenly shifts from 8-4 Democrats to 8-4 Republicans. And that happened across the South, and it essentially led to the extinction of the white Democratic Congressman in the South. There’s only a handful left these days.

DAVIES: And so then lawsuits now are aimed at re-crafting those boundaries.

DALEY: Exactly.

DAVIES: Let me play devil’s advocate on the Operation RedMap argument here. This was about the 2010 elections. And you note that while Operation RedMap targeted, you know, a few dozen congressional seats in efforts to flip statehouses, it was a big Republican tide that year in that they gained almost 700 state legislative seats nationwide. And if you look specifically at Pennsylvania, for example, going into that election, the Democrats had a narrow majority in the statehouse – five or six seats – and that Operation RedMap, this national Republican effort, targeted three, put money in, won all three. And that would’ve been enough to flip the statehouse from Democrat to Republican.

But there was such a Republican tide that after that election, the Republicans ended up with a 21-seat majority in the Pennsylvania Statehouse. If those three seats targeted by the national Republican effort had stayed Democrat, it would still have been a 15-seat Republican majority. I guess what I’m wondering is however smart and effective Chris Jankowski and these national Republicans were, there was a Republican tide here, and a lot of this would’ve happened anyway, wouldn’t it?

DALEY: There was a huge Republican wave election in 2010, and that is an important piece of this. But the other important piece of Redmap is what they did to lock in those lines the following year. And it’s the mapping efforts that were made and the precise strategies that were launched in 2011 to sustain those gains, even in Democratic years, which is what makes RedMap so effective and successful.

DAVIES: You know, when I looked at the book, it struck me that what Chris Jankowski and these national Republican strategists was sort of staring us in the face, right? I mean, everybody knew that congressional redistricting mattered. Everybody knew that they were largely done by state legislatures. It wasn’t a big leap to figure out that it might be worth some national effort to win state legislative seats. Are the Democrats more focused on this now than they were before?

DALEY: The Democrats have finally realized that they need a plan. They are doing what seems to me to be all the wrong things. They’re fighting the last war, and they’re trying to replicate the plan that the Republicans had in 2010. The problem is they’re going to have to win on Republican maps with less money and no elements of surprise. Seems to…

DAVIES: When you say Republican maps, you’re talking about Republican state legislative maps, not congressional maps.

DALEY: Yes.

DAVIES: Right, right.

DALEY: This is what we need to understand – there are so many different locks on the system right now that undoing this is going to take years and really concentrated efforts state by state, chamber by chamber. There is no one simple solution to this. And it’s going to take the Democratic Party a lot of time, possibly even a generation to undo what happened in 2010 and 2011.

DAVIES: What’s interesting to me about that is in 2010 – you focus on how after the Republicans took control of statehouses, they redo congressional maps so as to enormously strengthen the Republican’s hold on Congress. But the state legislative maps, were they also gerrymandered so that they…

DALEY: They were, so that’s what matters.

DAVIES: So in…

DALEY: Yes.

DAVIES: …2020 when you’re electing the legislatures that will do the next congressional redistricting, those races will occur in districts redone in 2010?

DALEY: There could be – there could be a huge Democratic wave nationally in 2020 that elects or reelects a Democratic president that year. However, if the Democrats can’t make a difference and some headway in changing control of the Ohio House or the Michigan Senate or the Wisconsin House or the Florida House, they will still have Republicans drawing these lines in 2021. And they will be locked in for another decade.

DAVIES: Unless there are movements to take redistricting out of the hands of legislatures.

DALEY: That will take some time.

DAVIES: You don’t think that’s going to happen in a lot of places anytime soon.

DALEY: I do not think that this is a problem that can be solved quickly or easily. And it seems to me that we are going to have Republican control at this level for a long time.

DAVIES: David Daley, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DALEY: Thanks so much for having me.

DAVIES: Dave Daley is editor-in-chief of Salon. His book about the 2010 election and redistricting has a title we can’t say on the radio. I’ll approximate it as “Rat(Bleeped): The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy.” Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Susan Faludi’s new memoir. This is FRESH AIR.

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***

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

An Independent Reviews RATF**KED

The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy

By Dr. Jessie Fields 

Jessie Fields

Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2107 National Conference of Independents

 

David Daley does a fine job of exploring the politics of redistricting and the current escalation of gerrymandering, a very old corrupt standard practice of elected officials determining the electoral districts from which they are elected, drawing the lines of state legislative and congressional districts. The author examines in detail the resulting high level of voter disenfranchisement at the state and national level, the effective takeover of our political process by party operatives who determine the outcome of elections by packing Democratic leaning minority voters into dense urban districts and spreading so called Republican leaning voters over more districts which Republican legislators can be assured to win though by smaller margins. Throughout the book Daley touches on the racial and economic divisions this practice perpetuates.

The book pivots through the years of the Obama presidency and examines the 2010 Republican Party escalation of partisan gerrymandering that targeted districts in key states to successfully control the state redistricting process which resulted in unprecedented victories for the Republican Party and their domination of a majority of state legislatures and of Congress.  The author also points out the complacency of the Democratic Party, its focus on presidential elections and the Democratic Party’s reliance on demographics to win elections.

A solution to gerrymandering is unlikely to come from either of the two parties. The Republicans may have perfected it in 2010, but both sides have had a long, successful history of manipulating redistricting for their own advantage. A political party is built to win elections, after all – as well as to raise money and employ consultants and operatives. Their leaders always believe they can win the next one, and that reformers will stop howling once their side regains power. Too often, sadly, that’s true.”

Independent voters have been and remain committed to nonpartisan political reform including redistricting reform. The source for reform has come primarily from voter ballot initiatives and the book highlights the fights to maintain such initiatives in states like Arizona, where the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme court and the voter initiative was upheld by a 5-4 vote of the court.

Other examples of the passage of redistricting reforms by popular vote are Florida’s “nonpartisan Fair Districts Now coalition” which in 2010 passed two reform initiatives with 62 percent support. In 2015 Ohio voters by 71% passed a ballot initiative that, though limited, established a less partisan plan for drawing state legislative districts.

However California, in my estimate the state that has led the country in electoral reform victories with its redistricting commission and nonpartisan top two elections initiatives, passed by the voters in 2010, is not mentioned except in a quote in the chapter, “Democrats” from Martin Frost, a former Texas Congressman who was gerrymandered out of office.  

“When Democrats controlled the House for the four decades before the 1994 Gingrich revolution, redistricting worked with a wink, he said; it was an incumbent protection racket on both sides. .. “That’s why prior to the referendum in California – prior to the commission – everyone got reelected.” “The numbers back that up.”

The overarching theme of the book is in the subtitle, “The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy”.  It expresses the stealth aspect of the reality of what is happening to American democracy. A centerpiece of the theft and destruction of democracy is partisan gerrymandering in conjunction with closed partisan primaries. If the primaries locally and nationally were open and every voter, no matter party affiliation or non-affiliation, including independent voters could vote the threat of being “primaried” by a far right wing Republican would not exist.

The relationship of opening the primaries to all voters along with redistricting reform is underestimated, both are needed. Partisan gerrymandering hinges on the district being dominated by identification with one political party, so that whoever wins that party primary wins the general election. If the primary is open to all voters the candidates who are successful are more likely those that appeal to a cross section of voters. This phenomenon has been demonstrated in states with nonpartisan open primaries. A massive continuous infusion of systemic democracy reforms and initiatives that take power from the parties and put it in the hands of the voters are needed to save our democracy. I could not agree more with Daley that “.., it will require creative state and local solutions, inventive uses of the referendum and initiative process, and new alliances of frustrated citizens which defy party boundaries, rooted in the belief that fair elections which reflect an honest majority are as important as which side wins. It will take people to stand up and say that our democratic values matter too deeply to ratfuck.”

The book was completed before the end of the 2016 presidential election, and in it Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, postulates alternative scenarios if the election was won by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or “a Republican” given that gerrymandering has given the Republican Party a congressional majority for the rest of this decade. Donald Trump is now president. He was elected because large segments of the American people are in revolt against the establishment and are looking for ways to change politics. This popular revolt was also expressed in the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders.

The gerrymander is yet another example of a political barrier that must be overcome. Voters are becoming more independent and less easily sorted by party identification. Independents say strongly “do not put me in that box”, 43% of Americans now identify as independents, they are the hoped for bridge to a new and more inclusive American democracy.

~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.

***

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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

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.”

***

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