Holder redistricting effort aims to break GOP statehouse control 

Hill Photo Illustration/Garrett Evans

Former Attorney General Eric Holder is ramping up his efforts to reshape Republican-drawn congressional district maps.

Holder’s plan focuses on “trifectas” — states where Republicans control both the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers, giving them total control over the redistricting process. Holder laid out his strategy Wednesday to reporters at a Washington breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

{mosads}Holder and his allies have their work cut out for them. Democrats withered in statehouses across the country during former President Obama’s administration, with Republicans gaining around 1,000 state legislative seats between 2009 and 2016.  

Yet there’s optimism on the left that opposition to President Trump can help the party make gains in the midterms, even in red-leaning areas. Democrats have flipped 35 state legislative seats this cycle, including several in deep-red areas. 

Holder’s effort is a sign that the party will need serious resources just to get a seat at the table when new district lines are drawn in 2021. 

“The officials elected in 2018 will be the people sitting at the table when it comes to 2021,” Holder said. 

“This makes the elections in 2018 very vital. These are in some ways the first, critical steps to putting in place people who will take power back and give it to people.”

Holder’s vehicle for his vision is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), which he’s been setting up since Trump took office. The group has raised more than $16 million, and aims to collect $30 million before the 2018 midterms.

Republicans currently hold 26 state “trifectas.” Holder and the NDRC want to give Democrats at least partial control of those statehouses, while building up Democratic redistricting power through related reforms, advocacy and litigation.

The group is targeting elections in 12 states: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Holder has brought Democrats like Kelly Ward, who previously ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on board. She’s now the group’s executive director.

And Obama himself will play a significant role in the
organization. Holder had a two-hour meeting with Obama on Monday to brief him on his plans for the group. 

“Later this year, you will see him campaigning. He will be focused on the races that will matter for redistricting,” Holder said.

“He has identified this as his chief political activity of his post-presidency.”

Democrats are already expected to gain ground in one state, thanks to a court-ordered redistricting in Pennsylvania. The state Supreme Court last week ruled the congressional boundaries unconstitutional after a lawsuit supported by Holder’s group.

That will force Pennsylvania politicians to either draw new lines this week or hand the responsibility to the court.

Whoever draws the lines, the ruling is expected to help increase Democratic representation in the state’s congressional delegation, where the party has just 5 of the 18 seats.

Ward argued at the breakfast that interest in redistricting has grown since 2011, the last time congressional maps were redrawn.

“One of the things that happened in the last round of redistricting was there wasn’t really any attention on this issue …. That has completely changed,” she said.  

“That shift of public awareness is happening now and I think it’s going to be a very critical part of the next round of redistricting.”

Much of the blame for Democrats’ state-level collapse during the Obama years has been put on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which has been accused of ignoring or mismanaging state infrastructure.

Now led by former Obama administration Labor Secretary Tom Perez, the organization has upped its monthly allowance to state parties and created new grant programs. But the DNC has also struggled with its own fundraising, hindering how much support it can provide to state Democrats.

Still, Holder said the DNC would be an “effective partner” in the redistricting push.

“I think what the Democratic Party has got to do is to harness the intensity of feeling that’s out there, the huge number of people who are parts of what we call ‘the resistance,’ ” he said.

“It’s not always in terms of money.”

While Holder builds his redistricting effort, Republicans are ready to defend their governorships and state legislature majorities.

Strategists with the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) showed up at Holder’s breakfast, handing out a memo of their own aimed at “Eric Holder’s ‘rigged’ political side-show.”

“Eric Holder won’t admit the fact that many of the 1,000 seats Republicans won during Barack Obama’s tenure were in states where the lines were drawn by Democrats,” RSLC President Matt Walter said in a statement.

“Republicans won because they were better candidates with better visions for the people of their states. Holder and Obama are grasping at straws trying to blame the constitution in a naked political attempt to resuscitate their flat-lined state level legacies.”

Holder pushed back at allegations about partisan motives behind the group’s push, describing it as a “partisan effort at good government.”

“We don’t define success as electing Democrats who in 2021 will do what Republicans [did]in 2011 — that is, gerrymander on behalf of Democrats,” Holder said. 

“If we have a fair redistricting process and make it a battle between Republican ideas and Democratic ideas, between conservative ideas and progressive ideas, Democrats and conservatives will do absolutely fine.”

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Eric Holder Tom Perez

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