GOP could dominate state redistricting

Republicans could hold complete control over the redistricting process in several key states after the 2010 elections.

If the party’s gubernatorial candidates were to emerge with wins in Texas, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan — all states where Republicans either lead or are tied in recent polls — and the GOP holds or wins control of legislative chambers in those same states, Republicans could monopolize the post-2010 redraw.

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“If Republicans do really well on Election Day, they could swing a lot more seats that they would have control over,” said analyst Kimball Brace, who heads Election Data Services, a bipartisan firm that specializes in the census and redistricting. “A shift of 10 to 15 [state legislative] chambers is enough to swing [the process] dramatically toward the Republicans.”

Based on census data from earlier this year, Brace estimates a total of eight states will gain congressional seats this time around, with Texas projected to be the biggest gainer, with as many as four additional seats. Ohio is projected to lose two seats, while Pennsylvania and Michigan are expected to lose one. Florida is likely to gain one.

Strategists note that trends point to the loss of more congressional seats in blue states than in red ones.

One Republican strategist predicted those trends, in combination with GOP gains in 2010, would net the party some 12 to 15 seats once the redraw is done, which should be by the 2012 election, barring any major court battles.

The irony for Democrats would be that after years of making slow gains on the state level in all five of those key states, one wave election cycle could wipe them out and the redistricting scenario would revert to almost the identical place it was 10 years ago when Republicans had total control of the process in those same states.

Greg Speed, the executive director of America Votes, noted back in May how dire a situation that could pose for Democrats.

“The importance of who controls redistricting cannot be overstated,” Speed wrote on the Huffington Post. “After 2000, Republicans had full control of the process in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, and netted a 31-seat gain in Congress (+15 GOP, -16 Democrats) in those five states in the next election.”

Former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) headed his party’s redistricting efforts during the 2000 redraw. His seat later fell victim to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) mid-decade redistricting plan. This time around, Frost said, the three states that should worry Democrats the most are Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas.

“Even if Ohio and Pennsylvania end up losing congressional seats, Republicans can be up to some mischief in both of those states if they win governorships there,” Frost said.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans are just six seats down in the state House, while holding the state Senate comfortably. There, it’s the House that controls congressional redistricting, with veto authority given to the governor. In the governor’s race, Republican Tom Corbett holds a solid lead over Democrat Dan Onorato, and Republicans appear confident they can take back the lower chamber of the State Legislature.

The situation in Ohio is almost identical. Republicans will keep the state Senate, but Democrats hold an endangered nine-seat majority in the state House. And former Rep. John Kasich (R) leads Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in the race for governor.

In Ohio, a five-member commission that includes the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and one representative of each party from the State Legislature oversees the line-drawing process. It takes just three votes to approve a plan.

In Texas, Democrats are just four seats down in the state House and have a competitive gubernatorial nominee in former Houston Mayor Bill White.

Both parties are focusing tens of millions of dollars on state-level efforts. Despite the possibility of a Republican wave in 2010, Democrats are banking on years of careful structural planning to help them survive.

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“It’s pretty clear that we’re well ahead of them,” said Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). He notes the party has been building an infrastructure to handle this redistricting effort for more than six years.

After the last round of redistricting and the mid-decade redraw in Texas, the party developed a multi-pronged effort to ensure it was prepared for the next round. The 527 group Foundation for the Future is focused on providing technical assistance and data for the line-drawing process. The Democratic Redistricting Trust is raising millions for the post-draw legal battles. And the DLCC hopes to pour as much as $20 million into state races this fall.

Still, the political environment has bolstered Republican confidence. At a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor last week, former Republican National Committee Chairman and head of the Republican State Leadership Committee Ed Gillespie predicted widespread gains for the party this fall. He expects a minimum of 10 legislative chamber pickups, including winning back the state House chambers in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

After Election Day wraps, the redistricting fight will have only just begun. Both sides predict a sharp increase in litigation this time around. Two new aspects of the anticipated legal battles include a Democratic Justice Department and a Supreme Court ruling on the creation of majority-minority districts.

The upcoming round of redistricting will be the first since passage of the Civil Rights Act with a Democratic president and a Democratic attorney general.

The second challenge is the Supreme Court’s decision in Bartlett v. Strickland, a case that ruled line drawers are not required to create a majority-minority district unless the minority population is over 50 percent.

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