Gerrymandering Needs To Be Banned With A Constitutional Amendment

There were no computers when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution and the first attempts at gerrymandering-- manipulating electoral district boundaries to create an unfair advantage for the group with the power to draw the districts and named for Massachusetts governor (and later vice president) Elbridge Gerry-- were clunky. Today gerrymandering is no longer clunky; it is surgical and precise and needs to be abolished with a constitutional amendment.

Today, even states with "non-partisan" redistricting procedures are manipulated by dishonest and corrupt politicians. Most states' redistricting process was designed to be hopelessly corrupt, especially Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Nebraska,North Dakota, Illinois, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, West Virginia and Maryland. But even states that have "reformed" their systems-- like Ohio, New York, Arizona, New Jersey, Michigan-- are no less corrupt than Texas and Wisconsin.

Yesterday, in the NY Times, Shane Goldmacher made the case: How Lopsided New District Lines Are Deepening America's Divide. He zeroed in on one district in the Houston suburbs, TX-02, a district represented by Republican Dan Crenshaw that went from deep dark red to purple. Mitt Romney won with 62.9%. Trump beat Hillary 52.4% to 43.1% and Biden help Trump to a 49.9% to 48.6% win.

It wasn't hard to see which way the wind was blowing in this R+4 district that is entirely in Harris county and encircles Houston on the north and the west. In 2018, despite the Democratic wave, Crenshaw won with 52.8% and in 2020 he was reelected with 55.6%, doing far better than Trump. The Republican legislature decided to make the district redder, so they swapped out "liberal enclaves, like the nightlife-rich neighborhoods near Rice University... for conservative strongholds like The Woodlands, a master-planned community of more than 100,000 that is north of the city. The result: Trump would have carried the new seat in a landslide."

So the district is now very red again and Republican candidates no longer have to worry about appealing to Democrats or independents. Instead mainstream conservatives like Crenshaw have to worry about fascists and about purity. "The only political threat," wrote Goldmacher, "would have to come from the far right-- which, as it happens, is already agitating against him."

All across the nation, political mapmakers have erected similarly impenetrable partisan fortresses through the once-in-a-decade redrawing of America’s congressional lines. Texas, which holds the nation’s first primaries on Tuesday, is an especially extreme example of how competition between the two parties has been systemically erased. Nearly 90 percent of the next House could be occupied by lawmakers who, like Crenshaw, face almost no threat of losing a general election, a precipitous drop that dramatically changes the political incentives and pressures they confront.
“What the future of the Republican Party should be is people who can make better arguments than the left,” Crenshaw said in an interview. Yet in his new district, he will only need to make arguments to voters on the right, and the farther right.
When primaries are the only campaigns that count, candidates are often punished for compromise. The already polarized parties are pulled even farther apart. Governance becomes harder.
The dynamic can be seen playing out vividly in and around Crenshaw’s district. He appears in no imminent political danger. He faces underfunded opposition in Tuesday’s primary, out-raising rivals by more than 100 to one.
But his repeated rebuke of those who have spread the falsehood that Trump won the 2020 election-- fellow Republicans whom he has called “performance artists” and “grifters” capitalizing on “lie after lie after lie”-- have made him a target of what he derisively termed “the cancel culture of the right.”
“They view me as a threat because I don’t really toe the line,” Crenshaw said.
He has especially sparred with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, who, in the kind of political coincidence that is rarely an accident, found herself at a recent rally in Crenshaw’s district, declaring, “It is time to embrace the civil war in the GOP.”
“I oftentimes argue with someone you might know named Dan Crenshaw,” she later said, his name drawing boos. “I sure do not like people calling themself a conservative when all they really are is a performance artist themself.”
In 2020, Texas was the epicenter of the battle for control of the House, with a dozen suburban seats around Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio all in play.
In 2022, zero Texas Republicans are left defending particularly competitive seats. They were all turned safely, deeply red.
“Not having competitive elections is not good for democracy,” said Representative Lizzie Fletcher, a moderate Democrat whose Houston-area district was also overhauled. To solidify neighboring GOP seats, Republican mapmakers stuffed a surplus of Democratic voters-- including from the old Crenshaw seat-- into her district, the Texas 7th.
That seat has a long Republican lineage. George H.W. Bush once occupied it. Under the new lines, the district voted like Massachusetts in the presidential election.
For Fletcher, that means any future challenges are likely to come from the left. The political middle that helped her beat a Republican incumbent in 2018 is, suddenly, less relevant. “There is a huge risk,” she said, “that people will feel like it doesn’t matter whether they show up.”
...With Crenshaw facing only scattershot opposition, it was the neighboring open race to replace the retiring Representative Kevin Brady, a business-friendly Republican, that technically drew Greene to Texas.
On one side is Christian Collins, a former aide to Senator Ted Cruz, who is vowing to join the so-called MAGA wing in the House. He is backed by the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus, the party’s hard-line faction.
On the other side is Morgan Luttrell, a former member of the Navy SEALs who is backed by Crenshaw and a super PAC aligned with Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader.
The contest is the first primary of 2022 that the McCarthy-aligned PAC has intervened in, as some McCarthy allies privately worry that the glut of new, deep-red Republican seats could complicate his speakership bid and governance of the House, should Republicans win a majority.
“Does this create incentives to avoid governing? It clearly-- clearly, that’s the case,” Crenshaw said. But he said it is hard to discern the impact of those incentives versus others, like social media amplifying outrage and the increasing sorting of Americans into tribes.
There was tension in how Crenshaw described who holds the real power in the party, at once dismissing the far right as a fringe nuisance that only seeks to “monetize” division, while also saying traditional power brokers like congressional leaders are no longer the real political establishment either.
“They’re trying to hang on by a thread,” Crenshaw said of McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader. “They’re trying to wrangle cats.”
The Collins-Luttrell race has become something of a proxy fight over Crenshaw.
A pro-Collins super PAC used Crenshaw’s name in an anti-Luttrell billboard along Interstate 45. In a debate, Collins attacked Luttrell by saying he had been “endorsed by Dan Crenshaw-- I think that name speaks for itself.” At the Collins rally, speaker after speaker called Crenshaw a RINO-- a Republican in Name Only.
Crenshaw dismissed the rally as a “little carnival that came into town” and predicted that Luttrell would win in a runoff.
But the influence of lopsided districts is not necessarily that the more right-wing candidate always wins. It is that the entire parameters of the debate shift. Notably, neither Collins nor Luttrell has accepted that the 2020 election was legitimately decided, one of the issues that first put Crenshaw in the cross hairs.
...David Roberts, the co-founder of Texans for True Conservatives, said he expected Crenshaw to coast to re-election but vowed that 2024 would be different. “We’re going to move heaven and earth,” he said. “He may win this one. But his days are numbered.”
Sitting in his campaign office, in a neighborhood outside his new district, Crenshaw spoke about the shrinking number of seats that will require Republicans to sharpen their arguments against Democrats-- instead of against each other.
“It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?” he said. “I still will, because it’s all I care about. And look, if that doesn’t win out, then the Republican Party is doomed.”