Long relegated to dimly-lit back rooms of statehouses, Democrats are convinced they can make the decennial process of congressional map-drawing a major issue in this year’s elections, telling voters if they want fairness they must vote Democratic.
Former President Barack Obama has made the issue his major post-office political cause, assigning former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to run an organization designed specifically to put Democrats in better position when the next round of map-drawing happens after the 2020 census.
Democrats blame many of their losses in U.S. House and state legislative districts over the last eight years on maps drawn by Republicans after the last census to maximize GOP winnings.
They say one solution is to elect more Democrats to state offices in order to control the process the next time around.
“In 2018, voters in dozens of states will have the opportunity to elect Democratic governors to hold the veto pen in the 2021 redistricting process and ensure fair maps and better congressional representation for generations to come,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
The redistricting issue got a shot in the arm from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which earlier this year ruled GOP-drawn maps violated the state’s Constitution.
The Republican-controlled legislature tried to write new maps but Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed them, forcing the Supreme Court to issue its own maps that analysts could swing as many as seven seats from the GOP to Democrats later this year.
“Governor Wolf’s rejection of a map last week that would have continued Republican gerrymandering highlights how important it is that we elected more Democrats who will fight for fairness,” Mr. Holder said. “Republicans all over the country should be on notice — their days of partisan map-rigging are numbered.”
President Trump came down on the other side of the issue Tuesday, saying he hoped Republicans in the state would fight “all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”
“Your Original [map] was correct!” Mr. Trump said. “Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”
Mr. Holder’s group recently announced it plans to invest $30 million into electing Democratic governors, lawmakers and other state office holders to ensure the GOP doesn’t have a monopoly over drawing congressional maps after 2020.
The list of targeted states include: Ohio; Michigan; Wisconsin; Colorado; Minnesota; and Nevada.
David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democrats, said interest in the issue has spiked, noting that voters in his state will have the chance to cast a vote in the May 8 primary election on a referendum that seeks to reshape the process for drawing congressional lines in order to limit gerrymandering.
Even if the bipartisan ballot measure passes, Mr. Pepper said electing leaders who believe in non-partisan redistricting will remain important in Ohio, where Republicans hold 12 of the state’s 16 congressional seats.
“I think the question of gerrymandering will actually play a role in multiple races up and down the ballot,” Mr. Pepper said. “People are very focused on this the way they were not the last time around.”
Mr. Pepper said it dramatically different than when he tried to run on the issue in his 2010 bid for auditor of state, a position that is deeply involved in the map-making process in Ohio.
“For total insiders they got it, but I think it is a much more of a firestorm issue now in a place like Ohio,” he said.
Republicans, meanwhile, said Democrats are selling a false sense of hope.
“Democrats want to believe that they are the party of good government and believe against all evidence that gerrymandering somehow delivered the country Donald Trump,” said John Feehery, a GOP strategist. “So this fits into their campaign theme. Of course, we all know that this is all nonsense.”
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