Republican election gains and the impact on redistricting
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While much attention Tuesday focused on House and Senate races, voters were also electing more than six thousand state legislators. Some political analysts say Republicans' big gains in those races could be even more important than who controls Congress in January. That’s because State legislatures are responsible for redistricting, due to happen once the Census results are released early next year. FSRN’s Jacob Fenston has more.
While attention Tuesday focused on House and Senate races, voters were also electing thousands of state legislators -- over 6000 around the country. And the results of those races could be even more important than who controls Congress. State legislatures are responsible for redistricting, which will happen once the Census results are released early next year. Republicans’ big gains in the redistricting battles will shape politics for the next decade. FSRN’s Jacob Fenston reports.
It wasn’t just Nancy Pelosi who lost her job Tuesday, in state legislatures, Republicans took control of at least 18 chambers across the country. Tim Storey, with the National Conference of State Legislatures, says Republicans will be in the driver’s seat when states redraw districts next year.
TIM STOREY: “The success by Republicans on Tuesday night really positions them for the upcoming redistricting cycle in the best position they’ve been in since the modern era of redistricting began. So Republicans are really optimistic their wins will carry through for more than this one election because they’ll have an advantage in redistricting.”
Republicans gained over 650 seats in state legislatures. Storey says that means more Republicans in state governments than any time since 1928. Republicans will now control redistricting in key swing states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In those states, legislators could redraw the map so Democrats are isolated in just a few districts. But Storey says the makeup of a district isn’t everything.
TIM STOREY: “There are still a number of things that matter besides redistricting. You have to have good candidates. You have to run a good campaign, you have to be well funded obviously. And you have to get a few breaks along the way sometimes too.”
In 36 states, legislators draw the district maps. Seven states have only one district--so it’s a moot point--and the remaining seven draw the maps by commission. California now becomes one of those states, after two ballot propositions let the state move forward with creating a new redistricting commission. Jessica Levinson with the Center for Governmental Studies in L.A. says establishing the commission was a bipartisan issue:
JESSICA LEVINSON: “Both parties were united against it, because both parties stood to lose. Last time, when we drew the lines ten years ago, both parties basically decided, we’re going to create an incumbent protection plan. And that was very successful. Very very few incumbents lost election.”
And that’s what got voters, she says. This year’s anti-incumbent mood meant they didn’t trust elected officials with redrawing districts. Now, a bipartisan commission of regular citizens will be charged with the task.
JESSICA LEVINSON: “I think this is a very positive experiment to say, let’s see what happens when a group who hopefully is not invested in those issues draws the lines just based on criteria dealing with what would best represent the community.”
Voters in Florida approved a different experiment with a similar goal. They passed two constitutional amendments placing new rules on how their lawmakers draw up districts. Kelly Penton is with Fair Districts Florida, which headed up the campaign for the amendments.
KELLY PENTON: “Now legislators will have a responsibility to keep the districts as compact as possible, and really reflect the communities that are in them, as opposed to just drawing them in these weird and bizarre shapes only to hand pick voters that will be more favorable to them.”
The amendments passed with 62 percent and broad support, including civil rights groups like the NAACP. But some say the new laws could hurt minority groups. On Wednesday, two members of Congress, Corine Brown, a Democrat, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, filed a lawsuit, charging the amendments threaten minority voter districts. But Penton says the amendments built in protection for those groups.
KELLY PENTON: “It does not allow Tallahassee politicians to diminish the ability of minorities to select representatives of their choice.”
Not all are sold on these reform models, including Tim Storey, with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
TIM STOREY: “The good thing about California and Florida is that we’ve got two very different approaches to do redistricting in a different way. And it’s not clear if they’ll work. So I think one of the interesting things is to see which of these experiments works. Maybe both of them, maybe neither of them.”
Other states will be watching these two experiments. But for now, partisan redistricting is the rule. Storey says next year Republicans will draw the maps in 170 districts, while Democrats will only draw about 70.
Jacob Fenston, FSRN, Washington.