Thursday, May 7, 2015

Entrenching Incumbent Bias: Alan Lowenthal's Stealth Gerrymandering

One of the benefits of our little neighborhood is that we get a couple of throwaway free newspapers which, to their credit, do publish items of interest germane to the cities they cover. One such article covered a bill by my Congressman, Alan Lowenthal, to supposedly put an end to gerrymandering. Lowenthal on his own website declares H.R. 2978, the "Let the People Draw the Lines Act of 2013" (timely, no?) a means to put an end to partisan districting. Now, ignore for the moment that the paper's editor apparently put on the front page a two-year-old story, it's worth recalling how such "people's commissions" fooled the voting public and installed a Democratic supermajority in California:
The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting — no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates — members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines," according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.
Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”
Lowenthal's bill died in committee, and for anyone living in a state that does not currently have such a stealth "nonpartisan" committee, be grateful.

Update 5/8/2015: It turns out Lowenthal has a 2015 version of this bill (PDF). Your choices are this "independent" redistricting committee or unelected judges. Horrible.

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