A Few Helpful Pointers for IRC’s Next Chairperson
Help Wanted: Chairperson for the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Qualifications: You must be a registered voter who has not been affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties for the past three years.
Selection Process: The state constitution requires a judicial nominating committee to choose three finalists. The two Republicans and two Democrats who are already on the panel will then make the final selection.
Job Description: You are expected, according to the constitution, to approach your task “in an honest, independent and impartial fashion and to uphold public confidence in the integrity of the redistricting process.”
This is clear enough. However, to avoid any confusion, you will want to keep in mind these helpful pointers:
KEEP A CAREFUL EYE ON THE OPTICS OF WHAT YOU ARE DOING
As you may know, your predecessor ran into trouble when she voted with the two Democrats on the commission to select a mapping consultant that has done work for Democrats such as Barack Obama and John Kerry.
It makes no difference if in your heart of hearts you believe the company is the most qualified to do the job. Or that the people who end up doing the actual work are technicians who only do what you and your fellow commissioners tell them to do. Or, for that matter, that the consultant used by the previous commission had similar ties to the Republican Party.
This is, after all, a Republican state. You will want to keep in mind that anything you do that cuts across that grain will not be looked upon kindly. And in this day and age, the blogosphere can whip up fury in the blink of an eye.
STEER CLEAR OF THE DIRECTIVE ABOUT ‘COMPETITIVENESS’
The instruction manual in the state constitution spells out what you must do. You will preside over drawing congressional and legislative maps that must meet six requirements.
You will be expected to follow these directions to the T, except you should be forewarned that this will require more judgment than might be apparent. The standards for judging many aspects of your performance do not exist or are ambiguous. You will need to interpret equivocal phrases such as “to the extent practicable” and “where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals.” And you will find that drawing a map to better meet one requirement will cause you to penalize another.
Frequently, for instance, you will need to choose between respecting one community of interest – let’s say a particular ethnic group – at the expense of another, such as a city or a town. You will need to be prepared that many such choices will leave you open to criticism no matter which way you turn.
One particular interest group you will need to protect, like it or not, is incumbent office-holders. Their most important loyalties are, of course, to their own re-election and to maintaining their party’s and therefore their own power.
These objectives are most threatened by political competition. While it’s true that the ideal of creating competitive districts is one of the six requirements you need to meet, you should be constantly mindful that the party in power will regard it is a menace that will have to be put down.
You may remember that the previous redistricting commission put off dealing with competitiveness until all else had been done. Years later they got a mere slap on the wrist for this from the state Supreme Court.
The person you will replace tried to deal with competition upfront. For this, she got more than a slap on the wrist. Within weeks she was removed from office.
We understand that as an independent voter, you might have some predisposition toward competitive elections. But being mindful of the above, you will need to choose if you really want to go that route.
DO NOT TAKE THE TERM ‘INDEPENDENT’ TOO LITERALLY
Independence might be what voters had in mind in giving your prospective task to five citizens, with an independent such as yourself as its head.
You are to broker compromises between two sides that are set against each other. With the swing vote that you possess, decisions affecting the entire state for the next 10 years will unfairly come down hard on the shoulders of one person – you.
You would be well advised though not to read too much into a label of independence.
You will quickly learn that you have scant cover from the political forces that buffet the state. You as an independent have no one to turn to for backing, while those you are working with can always appeal to the highest authorities. Those authorities may no longer directly control the process, but they have too much at stake to let you go too far afield.
You won’t want to kid yourself. As a pragmatist, you will need to go along to get along. The commission you will head can’t be too independent.