By Nathan L. Gonzales and Lauren W. Whittington
Republicans and Democrats are already organizing and strategizing for their decennial battle over Congressional redistricting, with a decade’s worth of elections hanging in the balance.
While the fight over conducting the census is expected to take center stage over the next year and a half, partisans on both sides of the aisle are keenly aware of what is at stake in the post-2010 redrawing of district boundaries.
Democrats thus far appear to have the upper hand over their GOP counterparts in terms of behind-the-scenes planning for the fight, perhaps a result of the fact that the party lost the overall battle in the last round of redistricting.
Democrats are also now in control of Congress and the White House, which was not the case at the time of the last redraw, and they will no doubt look to the upcoming effort to help cement, and grow, their majority.
Former Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) was deeply involved in the last redistricting as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1999 through 2002.
“They were sleeping last time,” Davis said of Democrats. “They slept through this stuff. I think they’ve gone to school on what we did.”
The upcoming round of redistricting will be unlike any other because it is the first since passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which prohibits the use of soft money and thus severely limits the involvement of Members. Lawmakers can still raise hard dollars for the effort, but party strategists on both sides of the aisle are trying to figure out how to tackle redistricting under the new guidelines.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has tapped fellow California Rep. Mike Thompson (D) to spearhead the party’s redistricting effort.
“We just want to make sure everybody’s ready,” Thompson said. “I’ve been meeting with the different delegations and making sure that any questions that they have can be answered. [That] they know exactly what they can and can’t do. And making sure that the states are ramped up and ready to go so that we don’t get caught flat-footed.”
Traditionally, Democrats have relied on outside groups to handle the nuts and bolts of their redistricting effort, putting them in a better position to adapt to the new rules.
The Democratic effort will utilize a divide-and-conquer strategy, covering the electoral, analytical and legal battles of the redistricting war.
A new entity is forming to head up the party’s legal strategy. According to multiple Democratic sources, it’s likely to be called the Redistricting Trust.
Final details and paperwork for the organization are still being worked out but former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Political Director Brian Smoot will be the executive director and a number of high-level DCCC veterans will be involved as well. The group will focus on developing national and state-specific legal strategies, according to Smoot, who is also a partner with 4C Partners.
The new group will be able to accept non-federal dollars, placing the funding burden squarely on outside groups.
“In 2003, progressive groups attacked redistricting as a political problem, but it was a legal problem,” said Democratic strategist Matt Angle. He stressed the need for progressive groups to embrace the legal cause, as well as the map-drawing and electoral aspects.
In July 2008, representatives from the major groups involved in the redistricting process — including the National Committee for an Effective Congress, Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees — met at Democratic National Committee headquarters.
The Democratic Governors Association and DLCC are focused on making sure that Democrats have as many seats at the redistricting table as possible. That means winning gubernatorial and state legislative races beginning this year.
“It’s all incidental if you don’t have the seats,” said one Democratic strategist. “It’s important to control the chambers.”
The governorships of 36 states are up for election next year. The governor has a direct role in Congressional remapping (whether it is veto power or appointment of a commission) in all but eight states. State legislatures will draw the lines in 36 states.
The DLCC is also involved in the Foundation for the Future, a Democratic 527 organized in July 2006 to prepare for redistricting.
The AFSCME is also involved with the foundation and party insiders credit the labor union for important work at the state level and bringing financial backing to the table. The NCEC, including Washington Director Mark Gersh, is considered the gold-standard when it comes to number-crunching, data analysis and projecting demographic trends in districts on the Democratic side and is also a key player in the Foundation for the Future.
Democrats view the NCEC’s work as critical because redistricting is more than drawing maps. It’s about understanding population trends in order to draw districts that survive electoral ups and downs. Data analysis is also important because this is the first remapping that will be undertaken with a Democratic-led Justice Department since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The foundation appears to be the latest version of the National Democratic Redistricting Project, which began in the late 1980s and was led by then-Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) in the early 1990s.
Then-Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) led the party’s effort a decade ago through IMPAC 2000, and he is also likely to be involved again.
Angle, Frost’s former chief of staff, worked closely with IMPAC 2000 and has subsequently focused on Democratic efforts in Texas and is working as an outside consultant to the Foundation for the Future. Former DCCC political director and media consultant Peter Cari was executive director of IMPAC 2000 and is likely to be involved in the overall redistricting effort in some capacity.
In 2002, redistricting helped George W. Bush buck history, as Republicans gained seats in the president’s first midterm elections for only the second time since Abraham Lincoln. Fueled by their losses that cycle and a mid-decade redistricting by Republicans in Texas, Democrats are determined to not let that happen again.
“We want to make sure things are fair,” Thompson said. “We saw what happened in Texas where there was pretty unfair tactics used to redistrict that state. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
This story first appeared in Roll Call on May 18, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
By Nathan L. Gonzales and Lauren W. Whittington