TALKING POINTS: Gerrymandering
1. Call Ben Cline’s Richmond office and tell his staff:
“I support redistricting reform. There are plenty of good reform bills – with or without commissions – and I want him to vote for them.”
House bill HJ763 goes before the House of Delegates today, Monday, January 23rd. If you call Monday morning, tell his office you want him to vote for it. If you’re calling after Monday, ask how he voted and why. (If his office says they don’t know, remind them that Cline introduced a bill requiring greater government transparency: every vote by every delegate should be publicly recorded on every bill.)
2. Follow-up your phone call with an email that goes into greater detail.
3. Revise your email into a letter-to-the-editor and send it to Lexington News-Gazette (250 words max):
Here’s a range of information about gerrymandering to help:
Ronald Reagan called gerrymandering “un-democratic and un-American.” It allows the controlling party in state legislatures to invent voting districts that guarantee they stay in power.
Virginia is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. Even though a majority of voters voted for Clinton in 2016, Obama in 2012 and 2008, and our two Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, as well as Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, our House of Delegates is 2/3rds Republican, and 7 of our 11 U.S. Representatives are Republicans too. This is because Republicans created a small number of overwhelmingly Democratic voting districts, resulting in fewer Democrats being elected.
As a result of gerrymandering, incumbents of both parties regularly run unopposed and keep their seats term after term. Our 24th District Delegate Ben Cline has been in office since 2002, and he’s in line to take Bob Goodlatte’s U.S. House seat, which he’s held since 1992.
Insofar as a state allows state legislators to redraw districts, it is a conflict of interest because the elected officials are controlling and conditioning the process by which they are returned to office.
Independent commissions are one possible solution. At his most recent town hall meeting, Cline said it was wrong to turn the districting process over to a bunch of unaccountable, unelected officials. But commissions remove the veneer of, at best, conflict of interest and, at worst, outright corruption. They are not perfect, but they are a clear improvement insofar as appearances (of corruption or conflict of interest) really do matter in politics.
Twenty-one states use Redistricting Commissions. A great summary is actually on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redistricting_commission
The processes vary insofar as some commissions are nonpartisan, others are bipartisan. Iowa turns the process over to nonpartisan legislative services staff. The staff plans are subject only to an up or down vote by the legislature. But, you will notice that politics still operates in these states and the State Houses are not burning down.
You can also ask Ben about the cost of litigation. How much does the state pay experts to draft plans, to defend them in court, to redraft them, etc. From a good government, lower-the-taxes point of view, a good Republican like Ben ought to support a districting process that costs less money, not more (since the taxpayers pay for this).
The Supreme Court says that redistricting commissions are ok. Of course, a good Republican like Ben should respect the Roberts Court’s decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (2015). Granted, it was 5-4 and the majority was the liberal wing: Ginsburg, Kennedy, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor.
The majority essentially argued that while the US Constitution says that the states are charged with redistricting, it is not unreasonable to regard “the people” as “the legislature.” That is a pretty sketchy interpretation of the constitutional text and Roberts takes the majority to task for it in his dissent. That will probably be Ben’s response—that the liberal wing hijacked the Court. Still, the decision is the law of the land for now.
For a short video on gerrymandering, check out this eight-minute PBS production: