Category Archives: Redistricting

New Interest in the Old Dominion

Yesterday Louisa County, Virginia election officials were finalizing a canvas of that county’s votes in a pivotal state Senate race to determine partisan control of the upper house of the Virginia General Assembly. At the time, the current count showed GOP candidate Bryce Reeves holding a 224-vote lead over incumbent Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania). On election night it appeared that Reeves held a slimmer 86-vote margin until an error was found in Culpeper County’s reporting of the results in the north-central Virginia Senate district. However, not long ago, Sen. Houck conceded defeat, which effectively ends Democratic control in Richmond.

According to a post on his Facebook page, Houck wrote that “… following a conference call with my legal team and campaign advisors, I determined that I must concede this election. I do so knowing that ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.'”

That concession allows Reeves to become the 20th GOP senator, which creates a partisan deadlock in the Old Dominion’s 40-member chamber – a tie would be broken by the body’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who has already said that the GOP would take control of important committee chairmanships and assignments in the body.

One of the most important of those assignments is the chairmanship of the Privileges and Elections Committee. That individual will be responsible for drawing the Commonwealth’s new congressional redistricting plan. The GOP currently controls eight of the 11 congressional districts, but wants to improve the partisan make-up of some of the more marginal GOP seats and might find a way to make life even more difficult for Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly in the 11th District. Connolly barely survived a spirited challenge from GOP activist Keith Fimian in 2010. The 11th District is considered one of the more marginal districts from a partisan standpoint, and may be too tempting for the GOP majority in Richmond to ignore.

An alternative move may simply be to shore up Connolly and concede a seat to him. This would allow the GOP map drawers to create district switches where Democratic votes are moved into Connolly’s seat in order to put more Republican voters in marginal GOP seats. This strategy would allow the Republican leadership to move in a direction that locks in the 8-3 majority for the next decade.

It’s this type of decision that normally faces majorities of both parties when they construct new districts. In places like Indiana, for example, Republican leaders decided to forsake a secure 6R-3D map in exchange for a plan that could yield seven Republicans and only two Democrats. This type of approach maximizes partisan return in a good year for the majority party, but can falter when political fortunes turn sour. A map with a smaller, but more secure, delegation majority will likely hold up for the decade irrespective of political trends.

Weekly Redistricting Outlook

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following four states during the past week:

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – Redistricting chaos has broken out. (Read more background in our Nov. 2 post.) Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the Republican state Senate last week impeached Independent Redistricting Commission chair Colleen Mathis, as they have the power to do under the voter initiative that created the special panel in 2000. The commission is comprised of two Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent, the latter of whom automatically becomes chairman. Ms. Mathis, the Independent, was impeached by two-thirds of the state Senate, which Gov. Brewer approved. Officially, the impeachment related to the way in which Mathis discharged her duties as commission chair but, in reality, it was because she basically became the commission’s third Democratic member, siding with the Ds on all key votes. She helped draft a map that will likely lead to a Democratic majority within the state’s nine-member federal delegation at some point during the decade.

The Democrats argued that the map would elect four Republicans, two Democrats, which would leave three seats as competitive in districts that either party could win. Considering demographic growth patterns in Arizona, the three toss-up seats would likely trend Democratic if not in 2012, then in later elections. GOP freshmen Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1) and David Schweikert (R-AZ-5), in particular, received unfavorable draws and would have difficult paths to re-election.

After the impeachment, Mathis filed suit with the state Supreme Court to overturn the removal action. The high court has agreed to hear the case. Their first ruling will likely come next week, when they decide whether or not to stay the impeachment pending the judicial review. Invoking a stay would be interesting, since such a move would basically restore Mathis to her role as chairman, at least for the short term. That might be enough time, however, to actually adopt the draft map. The initiative law mandated that any draft map must be opened to a public comment period for 30 days, a period that has now expired. Actually adopting the congressional map will give the plan a greater legal standing, since an eventual lawsuit against whatever becomes final is inevitable.

MASSACHUSETTS (current delegation 10D; loses one seat) – The proposed Massachusetts congressional map was released yesterday and, to no one’s surprise since 1st District Rep. John Olver (D) has already announced his retirement, the 1st and 2nd Districts, the two western-most seats in the Bay State, were combined into a new 1st District. All nine Democrats seeking re-election should have no trouble, as most of the new map is similar to the current plan, sans western Mass. The new 7th District (formerly the 8th) of Rep. Michael Capuano (D) loses the city of Cambridge, long the district’s population anchor dating back to the days when John Kennedy and Tip O’Neill represented the seat, while annexing several minority communities. Rep. Barney Frank’s (D) 4th District loses the cities of New Bedford and Fall River to Rep. Bill Keating’s new 9th District, thus making the former’s seat a bit more Republican as he some GOP-leaning suburbs were then added. This map, or a version close to it, will be enacted and all incumbents should remain in what will likely be a 9D-0R delegation for the decade.

NORTH CAROLINA (current delegation: 7D-6R) – The North Carolina congressional map approved by the state legislature earlier in the year received pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department. It is clearly the Republicans’ best map in the country. Immediately, several lawsuits, including one from a group of plaintiffs led by former Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC-2), were filed. Having pre-clearance from the Obama Administration clearly gives the state a strong argument to win these court challenges. It is likely that the pre-cleared map will eventually become final, meaning that 2012 elections will be conducted within the boundaries of this plan. Heavily endangered are Democratic incumbents Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7), Larry Kissell (D-NC-8), and Heath Shuler (D-NC-11). Reps. David Price (D-NC-4) and Brad Miller (D-NC-13) are paired in a new District 4 that stretches from Raleigh to Fayetteville. Republicans could gain as many a four seats in the Tar Heel State, neutralizing similar losses from the Democratic map in Illinois.

OHIO (current delegation: 13R-5D: loses two seats) – The GOP plan to redraw the congressional districts in order to attract enough African-American Democratic support in the state House of Representatives to pass the map via a two-thirds vote has failed. Though the state has enacted a map, Democrats won a court ruling that gives them the ability to place the measure before the 2012 general election voters via referendum. Had the GOP garnered a two-thirds vote in both houses, a referendum would not have been a legal option. The mark was attained in the state Senate but fell a few votes short in the House.

In a ruling against the Democrats, the court did not extend the signature gathering period to qualify the referendum. The party had asked for the longer period because the regular referendum qualifying period is already half over. Even with the shortened time frame, the Democrats should be able to qualify the measure for a vote.

If they are successful, then an interim map will have to be used for 2012. Ohio loses two seats, so a new 16-district map must be in place for the upcoming elections. The enacted map would likely elect 12 Republicans and four Democrats. It is likely that a court-drawn map would not reflect as favorable a Republican split, though the GOP will ask the eventual court of jurisdiction to install the official plan as the interim map.

Ohio is a critically important redistricting state, especially for the Republicans, so the eventual outcome here will greatly affect the national political picture.

Arizona Redistricting Explodes

The Arizona state Senate, acting in a special session that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) called earlier in the day, impeached Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) chair Colleen Mathis, throwing the state’s redistricting process into chaos.

The GOP had long been upset with Mathis, the Independent member among the five commissioners. By law, the IRC is comprised of two Republicans, two Democrats, and the one Independent. Ms. Mathis initially raised the GOP’s ire when she sided with the Democratic members in choosing the Commission legal counsel and special master map drawers, both over intense Republican objections. The GOP leaders uniformly believed that those chosen for these two most important administrative positions were highly partisan Democratic activists.

The timing of the impeachment action will likely prevent the remaining IRC members from approving the draft congressional map. The Commission could not vote on a final map until the public had 30 days to make comments once the draft plan was released into the public domain.  That period ends tomorrow, but without Mathis they don’t have the necessary three votes for passage.

Republicans were unhappy with the congressional draw, a plan that would likely give the Democrats a 5-4 delegation majority over the course of the decade. The current split is 5-3 Republican. The state gains one seat in reapportionment.

Democrats countered that the map actually creates four Republican seats while only two are safely in their party’s column. The other three seats are marginal, competitive for either party to claim, they said. The state’s demographic trends, however, and the way in which this map was constructed would likely trend Democratic, if not in the 2012 election, then certainly in subsequent votes.

Previously, Attorney General Tom Horne (R) had filed suit against the Commission, claiming the panel had violated the state’s open meetings law. Late last week, the judge hearing the litigation removed Horne as the lead plaintiff ruling that the Attorney General’s office had advised the IRC about complying with that very set of laws. The Maricopa County Attorney replaced Horne as lead plaintiff, so the lawsuit continues.

Gov. Brewer took the bold action yesterday morning, by summoning the legislature into special session. Under the initiative passed by voters in 2000 creating the Commission, the governor and state Senate has the power to impeach and remove any IRC member for failure to properly perform their duties. The action requires two-thirds of the 30-member Senate to vote in favor of such a legislative maneuver. Republicans control the chamber 21-9, one more than needed so long as virtually very GOP Senator supported the motion to impeach.

For a time, however, it looked like the governor’s move would fail. State Sen. Frank Antenori (R) seemed to have enough votes to stop the impeachment under the reasoning that he believed the people, and not the Senate and governor, should have the power to disband the IRC in a vote during the current election cycle. He claimed to have four other senators following his lead. Things between Antenori and the governor got ugly before the vote was called. The senator was quoted as saying, “I’m not going to let this freaking governor push me around. This is pure, stupid, stubborn Jan Brewer,” he told a liberal blog reporter. But, in the end, Brewer carried the day as Antenori and the entire Republican caucus voted in favor of impeachment, and the motion carried 21-6 with three Democratic members not voting.

Democrats are countering, threatening recall petitions against certain GOP senators, while Mathis and the Democratic Commissioners are filing their own lawsuits against Brewer and the Republicans.

With the process collapsing to this degree, it appears that Arizona congressional redistricting will be on hold for the foreseeable future. It is difficult to predict the final outcome here, but it does appear that the draft Commission map will never again see the light of day. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens next.

Massachusetts Rep. Olver Announces Retirement

The Massachusetts redistricting situation just became clearer yesterday as 75-year-old, 11-term Rep. John Olver (D-MA-1) announced that he will not seek re-election next year. Because the state grew at only a 3.1 percent rate during the past 10 years, far below the national rate of growth rate of 9.7 percent, Massachusetts loses a seat in reapportionment. With 10 Democrats in the delegation, it was clear that an intra-party pairing would have to occur in a new nine-district map unless one member vacated his seat.

Rep. Olver’s western-most 1st district had been talked about as the top prospect for collapsing. His retirement had been rumored for months, though the congressman publicly stated on numerous occasions that he would run again.

MA-1 needs to gain the most number of people in the state, (82,558 individuals), though all 10 districts are under-populated. Now, without an incumbent, it is clear that this is the territory that will be melded into another district.

The Olver decision solves a major problem for the rest of the delegation. Originally, when Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA-8) was looking to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R), it was assumed that his Boston-Cambridge seat would be eliminated. There were also discussions about pairing freshman Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA-10) with one of the Boston-area members. But now, all will survive because the lost seat will be Mr. Olver’s. The congressman becomes the 22nd member to make public his intention to leave the House at the end of the current Congress, and the eighth to retire from politics. The other 14 are seeking higher office.

Weekly Redistricting Roundup

Redistricting action occurred in the following six states during the past week:

MAINE (current delegation: 2D) – Gov. Paul LePage (R) signed the compromise congressional map that makes only minimal changes in the existing plan. The city of Waterville switches to the 1st District from the 2nd, and other cosmetic changes comprise the recorded alterations. Even though Republicans control the entire legislative process, redistricting legislation requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers. Therefore, the “no-change compromise” map was adopted to avoid a protracted court battle. Democrats will retain both seats.

MARYLAND (current delegation: 6D-2R) – As we move closer to seeing a map proposal coming from the Democratically controlled legislature, rumors continue to fly. Last week, it appeared that the Dem leaders were going to carve up Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s (R) 6th District but allow the GOP 1st District to stand. Now, it seems an effort is being made to draw an 8D-0R map, which means breaking up both Republican seats into multiple parts. Though the Eastern Shore would reportedly remain intact in CD 1, more Democratic Western Shore areas in and around the Annapolis area will be added. The proposed plan will soon be made public. Democrats control the entire process, so it is likely they will try for the 8-0 sweep.

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has repeatedly said he would only sign a redistricting plan that was developed by an independent commission that he wanted the legislature to create. Now, he is sending signals that he would be open to a bi-partisan legislative compromise. He made statements to the media this week that he feels a court-drawn map would not be in the common interest of the New York citizenry. Expect the New York map to be one of the last enacted plans.

OHIO (current delegation: 13R-5D; loses two seats) – Gov. John Kasich (R) signed the legislation creating the new congressional redistricting plan. The map is designed to elect 12 Republicans and four Democrats, creating a new Columbus D seat and pairing the remaining minority party members together. Republicans Mike Turner (R-OH-3) and Steve Austria (R-OH-7) are also paired in the new 10th District. Ohio is now the 20th state to enact its congressional redistricting plan.

Fifteen maps are now law, with five more still before the Justice Department awaiting preclearance. Another four states await court action as their legislative process resulted in deadlock. The five remaining independent commissions will likely complete their combined work by early next year at the latest. So will at least two other states. This leaves a dozen late primary states to complete their processes next year. Congressional redistricting must occur in the 43 states that have more than one seat in the House of Representatives.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – As predicted by many, the new Texas congressional and state House maps will not likely pass the legal test. The San Antonio court hearing the consolidated lawsuits just indicated that it will draw an interim map while the legal process continues. This means a different map than enacted will now almost assuredly be inserted for the 2012 elections. The court has asked all parties to make their submissions for a replacement map by October 17th. The 2012 candidate filing period for the March primary begins on Nov. 17, so a new 36-district plan must be in place by at least that time. The Republican-enacted map appears to be a 26R-10D map.

Expect the court to draw a plan more favorable to the Democrats. Texas by-passed the Department of Justice and filed their preclearance submission with the District of Columbia Federal District Court. Since no decision has yet been rendered, the entire map can be re-drawn by the court of jurisdiction and not just the legally affected regions. Lawsuits were originally filed on minority group issues in and around the San Antonio-Austin area.

UTAH (current delegation: 2R-1D; gains one seat) – The appointed redistricting committee passed a plan to be considered in the special legislative beginning this week in Salt Lake City. The committee developed a map that could easily give the GOP a 4-0 sweep of the next delegation, a group that reapportionment increases by one member from its current three-seat configuration. Apparently Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is not particularly receptive to this plan, however, as he has made public statements reiterating his desire for a “fair” plan. Most interpret his statements to mean that he does not consider the legislative starting point to be acceptable.

His motives may not be purely altruistic, however. Without a district in which to run, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), a long-time proven vote-getter in an overwhelmingly Republican congressional district during the last decade, would then be free to run statewide. The congressman says he will be on the 2012 ballot, but he has yet to decide for which office. He has not ruled out a run against Herbert or opposing Sen. Orrin Hatch (R). In reacting to the new map, Matheson was quoted as saying he could run in the new 2nd District or even in the new 4th CD, which is designed to occupy part of the Salt Lake City region in the center of the state. The Utah plan, with its many political sub-plots, continues to be one of the more interesting situations to observe. Expect the process to culminate within the next two weeks.