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”.
Conference Call with David Daley
Author of RATF**KED
Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST
Pass code: 767775#