Just Thinking

A Few Helpful Pointers for IRC’s Next Chairperson

by Richard Gilman

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.

 

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Comments

  1. State Rep. Brenda Barton on said:

    Once upon a time at the beginning of this century, the voters created the Independent Redistricting Commission…and, as fate would have it, the commission did its work. Of course not everyone was pleased with the outcomes, but generally the commission maintained the public confidence and trust in the process. The results of its work however were challenged through the legal process… and eventually after a few years of legal dancing, the congressional and legislative districts were born and, we all lived happily ever after.

    That is until 2011 when by law and custom a new census was taken and the redistricting process began once again.

    Oddly enough, the original premise of redistricting by appointed commissioners who were appointed by appointees who were appointed by two past governors no longer in office has never been constitutionally tested.

    We are after all, guaranteed by the the national and state constitutions a “republican” (small ‘r’) or representative form of government. Is it representative when three out of five appointees appointed by appointees appointed by governors no longer in office draw the political lines of a state?

    As it is today, there is absolutely no accountability to the people for the outcome of the current process! Amazing isn’t it? If the maps were not challenged legally, there would be no recourse of redress by the people regarding the districts of the next 10 years.

    The “old way” (through the Legislature who are elected by the voters), left those who created the lines the year before at risk of being ousted less than a year later if the voters didn’t like the outcome. Consider that is the representatives of the people followed the legal parameters of a political district (communities of interest, compactness, contiguous and of equal populations) we would have the job completed. AND! If the voters didn’t like the maps, those who drew the lines would quickly reap the wrath of the voters less than 12 months later.

    Competitiveness and ‘minority-majorities’ were never envisioned or considered a part of redistricting. The entire purpose of “reapportionment” was to insure the premise of “One man/woman, one vote” or equal representation. Never were equal outcomes or districts engineered to insure “competitiveness”.

    Competitiveness has historically been considered in the arena of ideas, not mapping by strategic demographic political experts.

  2. State Rep. John Kavanagh on said:

    A few more “pointers” might be appropriate. Such as:

    1. Do not call other members and broker votes behind closed doors in violation of the open meeting law, especially on critical votes involving the selection of the mapping firm. And do not offer to vote for another members position as a quid pro quo for a current vote on your issue.

    2. When the Attorney General, while acting in his official capacity, asks you to explain allegations of law-breaking, answer honestly instead of “lawyering up” because it looks bad.

    3. When the governor notifies you that she is concerned about the allegations and asks for the explanation that she is constitutionally entitled to, send her a real answer as opposed to a well-parsed letter obviously prepared by a lawyer that says very little.

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