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Lawmakers brace for battles with colleagues as redistricting kicks off

U.S. Capitol
Greg Nash

Lawmakers across a number of states are bracing for the possibility of running against colleagues in 2022 as part of the decennial redrawing of district lines.

Data from the census released Monday showed California, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan each losing a House seat, while Texas gained two seats and Florida, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon each garnered one seat. Shifting populations within states could cause other lines to be redrawn as well.

The full redistricting data will not be available until this fall, but politicians are already eyeing who will be affected by shifting district boundaries and the implications the new map will have on the race for the House majority next year.

According to the Cook Political Report, lawmakers considered especially vulnerable to redistricting include Florida Reps. Charlie Crist (D) and Stephanie Murphy (D), Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), New York Reps. Claudia Tenney (R) and Tom Reed (R), Pennsylvania Reps. Matt Cartwright (D) and Dan Meuser (R), Georgia Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D) and Lucy McBath (D), and California Rep. Mike Garcia (R).

District lines are redrawn every 10 years based on the results of the census. The changes can upend the makeup of a state’s delegation, forcing two incumbents to face off against each other, creating a safe district for a party where there wasn’t one or dissolving what was once a solidly red or blue district. Which of those options occurs depends in large part on who controls the state’s redistricting process.

Republicans now have the final say when drawing congressional lines in 187 districts, while Democrats have total authority in 75 districts. Bipartisan commissions will control the drawing in 121 districts.

“When we get through all of this, we’ll be in a good spot to take back the majority,” said Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust. 

Democrats, on the other hand, point to the gains they made in blue states like Oregon and Colorado and say population growth in Sun Belt states — even ones that aren’t traditionally blue — will benefit them.

“That growth is because of voters that tend to vote Democratic,” said Kelly Ward Burton, the president of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “It’s growth in communities of color, it’s growth in the suburbs, it’s young people.”

“There is a competitiveness among those voters that for Democrats, that if the maps in those states are drawn fairly, Democrats should actually pick up seats,” she added.

Republicans, on the other hand, say that some of those demographics, notably Hispanic voters in Florida and Texas, are more likely to trend Republican, like many did in 2020.

“This whole narrative that somehow demographics is destiny, it keeps getting blown up and Democrats keep bringing it back up,” Kincaid said.

Experts say the redistricting process will heavily depend on how aggressive Republicans plan to be in the redrawing process in states like Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, where they have full control over redistricting.

In Georgia, for example, there is widespread concern at a Republican-controlled redistricting process will draw neighbors Bourdeaux and McBath into a single solidly blue district surrounded by red and cost Democrats a seat.

Meanwhile, bipartisan commissions hold the reins in a number of states including California and New York, both of which lost a House seat.

“The purpose of that commission was to allow them to operate independently of political pressure,” said California-based Democratic strategist Brian Brokaw.  “Will they receive political pressure? Absolutely. Will that impact their work ultimately? Possibly, but it’s a far cry from the days when you had the legislative leaders drawing the lines and making sure their incumbents were protected.”

But gridlock is at risk of ensuing in Louisiana, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, where Republicans and Democrats share control of the redrawing process.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Republicans in the GOP-controlled General Assembly can draw maps, but Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has the power to veto maps he does not approve of. In the scenario that the two sides do not agree, the map would then go to the state’s Democratic-controlled Supreme Court.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has been involved in the redrawing process in recent years. In 2018, the court told the legislature to redraw a new map after it said an earlier version violated the state’s constitution. When Wolf rejected the subsequent map drawn by Republicans, the court delivered its own version.

“This is a cautionary moment for Republicans in Pennsylvania,” said Philadelphia-based Democratic strategist Mark Nevins. “They have for the last several decades continuously shot themselves in the foot when it comes to redistricting in Pennsylvania.”

Groups are already gearing up for what is likely to be a fight over the process in these states. On Monday, the National Redistricting Action Fund, a nonprofit allied with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, filed the first lawsuits of this decade’s redistricting process.

The group filed impasse litigation in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Minnesota on Monday, asking courts to prepare to draw their own maps in the event that the two parties cannot reach an agreement.

Republicans dismissed the lawsuit as an “expensive press releases.”

“They’re not going anywhere,” Kincaid said, referring to the suits.

More court battles are likely to ensue going forward with both parties fighting to leverage control over the process. Democrats argue that Republican redistricting efforts amount to the party making a long-term power play.

“Their plan to gerrymander is a part of their plan to hold on to power falsely, regardless of the will of the voters,” Burton said.

The census data also stands to aid Republicans going into the next presidential election in 2024. The findings show Republicans gaining a few Electoral College votes. If the latest reapportionment counts were released before the 2020 election, President Biden would have won with 303 electoral votes instead of 306.

The red states of Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Texas will gain Electoral College votes, while blue states like New York and California will lose one each.

“It also diminishes some of the swing states a little bit,” said Trent England, the founder and executive director of Save Our States, referring to Michigan and Pennsylvania. “It helps Republicans a little bit and maybe changes that calculation about the swing states.” 

Tags Adam Kinzinger Census Charlie Crist claudia tenney Dan Meuser Gerrymandering Joe Biden Lucy McBath Matt Cartwright Redistricting Stephanie Murphy Tom Reed Tom Wolf

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