I've never been a fan of Alabama New Dem Terri Sewell, who represents one of the safest seats in America but still manages to run up a Progressive Punch "F" score year after year. Her "F" isn't as bad as the other Alabama members of Congress, but an "F" is an "F." Her lifetime crucial vote score is 69.53, almost exactly the same as last week's public enemy #1, Kathleen Rice (69.44). But Rice's Long Island district isn't anywhere near as safe as Sewell's. NY-04 has a PVI of D+4 (last year Trump won 43.4% there), while super-gerrymandered AL-07 has a D+19 PVI (and Trump won just 28.5% there). But, Dave Wasserman reported in The Atlantic this morning that Sewell wants to dismantle totally safe, gerrymandered, "packed" districts like her own, a reform I'm frankly shocked to read her advocating.
“If we’re a quarter of the population, we should be a quarter of the seats,” Sewell told me recently. In last year’s census, Black residents accounted for 27 percent of Alabama’s population. Black voters, however, effectively wield power in just one of its seven districts-- even though two districts with slimmer Black majorities would be possible to draw. “I’m for broadening the representation of African Americans across Alabama, instead of concentrating it in my district,” she said.
...All over the Deep South-- in states such as Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina-- the story is familiar: Gerrymandered maps have packed Black voters into a lone Voting Rights Act district, while Republicans dominate every surrounding white-majority seat. In past decades, many of those VRA districts’ Democratic representatives were loath to unravel their own safe seats. But today, Democrats’ prevailing mentality has shifted. And as the 2022 redistricting wars heat up, multiple lawsuits aiming to unpack hyper-minority seats could help determine control of the House.
I've been complaining about this kind of selfishness for years and I'm surprised and happy to hear about the change of heart-- from at least some of them. I applaud it. Wasserman only dealt with districts in The South that pack Democrats (basically, minority voters) into a district to "protect" Republicans in more competitive seats around it. Ohio and Wisconsin may be swing states but Republican state legislatures have gerrymandered and packed Democrats into a few districts to advantage Republicans. Let's start with Ohio, where Trump beat Biden there 3,154,834 (53.3%) to 2,679,165 (45.2%). Ohio had 16 congressional districts and you might think that the congressional seat election results would be something like 9 Republicans and 7 Democrats. But, because of severe gerrymandering/packing in 3 blue districts, the congressional delegation is 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats. Ohio-11 (D+30) and Ohio-03 (D+19) are insane-- and Ohio-09 (D+9) is pretty blatant as well. The ghetto-izing of Democrats in these 3 districts protects 5 Republicans in districts that should have been drawn to be competitive:
OH-04 (R+20)-- Jim Jordan
OH-05 (R+15)-- Bob Latta
OH-07 (R+18)-- Bob Gibbs
OH-14 (R+5)-- David Joyce
OH-16 (R+10)-- Anthony Gonzalez
Wisconsin has 8 congressional districts-- 3 blue and 5 red. And yet... Biden beat Trump 1,630,866 (49.4) to 1,610,184 (48.8%). In fact, Democrats have been winning all the statewide elections since 2016. Those numbers would indicate a congressional delegation made up of 4 Dems and 4 Republicans. But the Republican legislature and (Gov. Scott Walker) made gerrymandering their top priority the second they slipped into power. There are two blue districts-- a Milwaukee-based seat with a PVI of D+25 PVI and a Madison-based seat with a PVI of D+18. Meanwhile Republican districts have had just enough Democrats removed to stay safe for Republicans Bryan Steil (R+7), Glenn Grothman (R+10) and Mike Gallagher (R+10).
Texas is even worse-- 36 congressional districts (13 held by Dems and 23 by Republicans. But Texas is not THAT red by a long shot. Trump beat Biden 5,890,347 (52.1%) to 5,259,126 (46.5%). Instead of 13 Dems to 23 Republicans, an ungerryandered map would probably give the Republicans 19 seats and the Democrats 17. But 8 blue districts are unconscionably packed:
TX-09 (D+27)-- Al Green
TX-16 (D+18)-- Veronica Escobar
TX-18 (D+26)-- Sheila Jackson Lee
TX-20 (D+13)-- Joaquin Castro
TX-29 (D+19)-- Sylvia Garcia
TX-30 (D+29)-- Eddie Bernice Johnson
TX-33 (D+23)-- Marc Veasey
TX-35 (D+17)-- Lloyd Doggett
These 8 districts above were specifically drawn to create these 11 red districts below. Under an even a slightly fairer map, Van Duyne, Crenshaw, Carter, Roy, McCaul and Taylor would all be looking for new jobs. Instead, the legislature plans to make the map even less fair to prop these members up.
TX-02 (R+4)-- Dan Crenshaw
TX-03 (R+6)-- Van Taylor
TX-10 (R+5)-- Michael McCaul
TX-17 (R+9)-- Pete Session
TX-21 (R+5)-- Chip Roy
TX-22 (R+4)-- Troy Nehls
TX-24 (R+2)-- Beth Van Duyne
TX-25 (R+8)-- Roger Williams
TX-26 (R+8)-- Michael Burgess
TX-31 (R+6)-- John Carter
TX-36 (R+25)-- Brian Babin
Back to Wasserman, who wrote that the Dems are "now closer to a consensus that minority voters deserve to wield influence in more seats. Democrats, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s well-funded National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), are expanding their unpacking crusade to Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina" which would give each of those states 2 seats instead of 1-- although neither would be as overwhelmingly safe as they are now-- still absolutely safe just not overwhelmingly. "The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, of which Sewell is a main sponsor, would re-enshrine the VRA’s Section 5 preclearance regime. But in practice, Section 5 of the VRA never did much to address overpacking. In 2011, the Obama Justice Department actually granted approval to every single GOP-drawn map in the Deep South, largely because its statutory mandate under Section 5 was to prevent retrogression-- the weakening of existing minority opportunities-- rather than to compel new opportunity districts where they were possible."
Holder begs to differ. “The granting of preclearance was never meant to indicate that a map was either fair or could withstand any court challenge,” he told me via email. “As the Supreme Court has repeatedly said, maps that pack voters together based on their race are unconstitutional-- and there is no question they are discriminatory.”
Not every Democrat is on board with Holder’s plan. Representative Bennie Thompson, who, since 1993, has represented a 64 percent Black seat in the Mississippi Delta, says that although every state is different, “I’m not one who would sacrifice [Mississippi’s Second] District on a whim to elect another Democrat.” Thompson argues that current VRA seats should be left alone, while Republican districts in other states should be reconfigured to enhance minority voting strength. “There are even stranger districts represented by white Republicans than there are by Black Democrats,” he says, pointing to warped lines in Texas.
But in 2018, the highest-ranking Black member of the House, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper lambasting South Carolina’s GOP for packing his district to diminish Black influence elsewhere back in 2011. “If I had drawn the lines, my district would not be 58 percent Black, and [GOP Representative] Joe Wilson, with whom I share Columbia, would not have a district that is 68 percent white,” Clyburn wrote. “I am hopeful that when redistricting is done after the 2020 decennial census, stacking and bleaching will not be the primary goals.”
The newest member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Louisiana’s Troy Carter, echoes Clyburn and Sewell’s sentiments. In April, Carter was elected to a 59 percent Black district that zigzags from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
“We’ve only got one of six seats in a state that’s a third Black,” notes Carter, a former state senator from New Orleans. “If Baton Rouge and Opelousas can be tied in for a second majority-minority district, I’m all in. This process isn’t about me. Sometimes you have to give up some of your own to help someone else.”
Marc Elias, the same Democratic mega-lawyer who headed Democrats’ successful suits in North Carolina and Virginia, is slated to quarterback claims deeper in the South this time-- with virtually unlimited funding from Holder’s NDRC. And although courts covering Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina could be tougher venues, any victories could reverberate beyond the state’s boundaries. After all, Democrats are sitting on a razor-thin eight-seat margin in the House, rendering every seat crucial in 2022.
Bobby Scott, 74, finds wry satisfaction in his colleagues’ attitudinal shift toward the pro-unpacking stance he says he’s espoused since serving in Virginia’s House of Delegates 40 years ago.
“Ten years ago, Marc Elias IDed me as the only CBC member advocating for a lower Black percentage in my district,” Scott says with a chuckle. “I’ve been on the barrel end of abuse for taking a position that has eventually been proven right.”