Republican gerrymandering promises even more polarized Congress

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Republicans plan to blow right past demographic headwinds to fix this cycle’s congressional redistricting in their favor, particularly for their incumbents.

The result may be a gain of half a dozen House seats; that, in itself, would be enough for Republicans to take control.

What partisan gerrymandering does — both sides do it — is create more non-competitive or “safe” seats, where members then play to their base and there’s less incentive to work across the aisle. If this every-ten-years process works out as it appears now, the House will be even more polarized in 2023.

The population gains reported in the 2020 census came largely from minorities in four big states where Republicans totally control redistricting: Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. In those states more than 95 percent of the population growth came from Latinos, Blacks, Asian-Americans and those identified as mixed race. It occurred largely in metropolitan areas, which lean Democratic.

Yet Republicans show little interest in drawing new restricting maps that reflect that reality. “Our population growth is coming from people of color, but Republicans are fixing to deny them more representation,” says Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, which is contesting gerrymandering scams.

Republicans totally control redistricting in states with 187 House members, Democrats only 75. Three states where Democrats would have had control — California, Colorado and Virginia — have bi-partisan redistricting commissions. Three states where Democrats do have control include Illinois, New York and Maryland.

They will try to manipulate the outcome there; the initial Democratic-drawn map in Illinois, which loses a seat, is designed to give the party a 14 to 3 advantage; Democrats currently hold 13 of the state’s 18 House seats. 

But those efforts won’t come close to offsetting the Republican advantage, especially in those big four Southern States. Averaging the last three statewide elections in those states, Republicans have a small three- or four-point advantage. But of the 90 House seats, 55 are held by Republicans, or more than 60 percent. The party intends to add to that margin.

Texas, which gains two seats, added almost 4 million people, more than 95 percent of them nonwhites, who now comprise 60 percent of the state’s overall population. And the majority of the increase occurred in three large urban/suburban areas. Texas is no longer a huge Republican state; yet due to the earlier gerrymandering, its House delegation is 23-13 GOP, and 70 percent white.

The map Republicans have devised would maintain that ratio — despite the population gains coming predominately in Democratic venues. An example: Fort Bend County, outside of Dallas, once represented by right-wing Congressman Tom DeLay, is fast growing, diverse (70 percent nonwhite), prosperous and now Democratic. Biden carried it by 10 points last November. It should have its own member of Congress. Instead, Republicans are dividing it up as part of the process to protect their incumbents.

North Carolina, about evenly divided politically, gains one seat. Redistricting rests solely with an earlier gerrymandered Republican state legislature with a shady record: twice, over the past five years, Republican redistricting maps were rejected by federal courts for partisan or racial discrimination.

Here too, the state’s growth came overwhelmingly from people or color and in Democratic-leaning metro areas. Yet Raleigh Republicans’ initial map would protect their incumbents and likely create a 10 to 4 GOP margin in House seats; it’s currently 8 to 5. They are sure to face legal challenges.

In Florida, Republicans hold the legislature and governor’s mansion, as well as the state’s supreme court, which nixed some of the GOP’s earlier gerrymandering. The state gains two seats, with a huge population gain, the vast majority nonwhite.

Controlling all the levers, Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative Republicans have every intention — and ability — to draw a gerrymandered map that enhances the current 17-to-10 GOP margin.

The right-wing Republican Georgia legislature, already infamous for its voting suppression measures, can be expected soon to act accordingly in gerrymandering. The state added about a million people since 2010, with an actual decrease with whites and rural areas. You’d think the Democrats would have a shot at gaining a seat next year. With gerrymandering, that is a very long shot.

Republicans also are in good redistricting shape in a few other states, including Ohio and New Hampshire.

Democrats will go to court over partisan shenanigans. But this Republican-dominated Supreme Court isn’t likely to be receptive. Eight years ago, a less conservative court overturned an important provision protecting minorities in redistricting.

The best option would be for Congress to pass the voting rights measure, currently blocked by Republicans in the Senate; it would set standards making partisan gerrymandering more difficult.

Short of that, there will be fewer competitive races a year from now — and then a more poisonously partisan House.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Electoral geography Florida Georgia Gerrymandering North Carolina Political geography political polarization Redistricting Republican advantage Republican Party Ron DeSantis Texas

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