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.