Monday, January 31, 2011

Redistricting Wars

Every decade a census is taken, and legislative district lines are drawn. This time, the stakes are higher and the outcome somewhat more in doubt than they have been in possibly the last 100 years.

The stakes are high because Obama-backlash and Tea Party momentum have come closer to turning this into a two-party state than perhaps ever before. The outcome is more in doubt because this time not only is one of the three men who will draw the lines a Republican (Secretary of State Mark Martin), but there are issues that have the potential to divide Democrat interests. State-Senator Gilbert Baker, well connected to both Governor Beebe and to national Republicans like Karl Rove, is also taking substantial interest in the project.

Very early on, Baker was pushing for a quick re-drawing of state legislative lines, saying there was an obligation to get as close as possible to the Arkansas Constitution's date of 1 February. Complying with that date is not strictly possible, because FED GOV will not formalize the data until later that month.

Among state legislative districts, one of the huge questions will be whether or not to gerrymander so as to manufacturer more minority-majority districts. If implemented, the effects will be the same here as they have been everywhere else this has been tried: it will polarize the legislature on racial issues and at the same time marginalize minority concerns. A few polticians of color might be better off, but the average black Arkansan will have less influence, not more. This is because .....

(continued, including analysis of the important question of "is Rick Crawford going to be thrown to the wolves to protect Tim Griffin?", on the jump)


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

....this is because minority-majority districts concentrate more minority interest in fewer districts. Ten legislators with districts which have 20% minority vote would be fools to ignore their concerns- especially if they are Democrats and need them as part of a coalition. But if you concentrate those voters into two districts that are all minority and eight that have almost none, then their concerns can be discounted by the other eight.

That means you wind up with polarization- two indignant and outraged minority legislators who fume that their issues are ignored and eight Democratic legislators who have no self-interest in addressing their issues. In fact, doing so could cost them their job since their districts are liable to be much more competitive since they just lost an automatic 20% of the vote.

Since so few blacks vote Republican, before the shake up a Republican candidate had to get his 51% of the vote from 80%. That's hard. Take that 20% automatic vote for the dems away, and suddenly a lot more districts will be competitive.

Gilbert Baker knows this, that's why I think he is pushing for a quick resolution of district lines that will include minority-majority districts. He wants to lock up a group that votes 90% Democratic in a handful of districts to maximize GOP chances of, if not winning more seats, at least holding onto their gains even in a Presidential election year where the Democrats might have a stronger turnout.

Gov. Mike Beebe will seek to avoid this. He is for the status quo. That leaves two wild cards on the three-person board. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will do whatever is best for McDaniel. I think he has visions of being Governor McDaniel. While this deal is not good for African-American voters overall, it is good for the political class subgroup of them that drives the votes as a group. McDaniel could see this as a way to ingratiate himself and get leverage for a Democratic primary battle with someone like Mike Ross.

The other wild card is Martin. He has always been a supporter of Baker, but he also has an idealistic streak and has frowned on legislators even from his own party meddling with things he considers Secretary of State business of course a case can be made that redistricting is everyone's business.

8:16 PM, January 31, 2011  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

We will see how that works out, but I think Baker wants to rush something through and steal a march on the Governor. At the least, he will maneuver Beebe into a position where the Governor has to irritate some political active African-Americans. We will see if the many moving parts needed to make that happen play out.

The other interesting thing is, that even though the constitutional provision Baker cited applied to state legislators, he has spent most of his time talking about proposed changes in the Congressional district lines. Some of that may be that this is just what the media is asking about most.

It is clear that the 2nd district and the third district will have to shed some voters to the other two districts, especially the 4th. The 1st and 2nd districts are traditionally Democrat districts, but the anti-Obama tidal wave helped lift Republicans Rick Crawford and Tim Griffin to office in those districts. Those seats are still very much in play, and movements in district lines could make a huge difference in helping those two freshmen Congressmen keep their seats.

Crawford was a grass-roots Tea Party kind of guy. Griffin is a lot more connected to the national Republican party. So is Baker. It appears that Baker wants to redraw congressional district lines in a particular way.

As near as I can tell, Baker wants to shrink the GOP-supporting third by sending Fort Smith into the democratic 4th district. Incumbent Democrat Congressman Mike Ross and the Democrats won't take to that- unless Baker balances it out. He proposes to do so by sending largely minority and democrat-voting south Pulaski County out of the 2nd district and into the 4th. This would leave Republican-leaning west Pulaski county in the 2nd. The county would be split.

The rumor is that there is no way to draw the congressional districts without splitting counties, but I am not so sure. At any rate, there are other ways one could draw those lines. The 1st could give up some of its southern counties to the 4th, and take northern counties from both the 2nd and 3rd. The 3rd might have to give up an additional western county to the 4th to make it work.

The plan I suggested would be ideal to help Rick Crawford keep his seat, but does nothing to help Tim Griffin keep his. The plan Gilbert Baker is suggesting helps Tim Griffin keep his seat, but does nothing to help Rick Crawford.

Maybe there is a plan that would split the difference. I don't know. I just know that the priority is redrawing district lines so that Tim Griffin stays in office. Griffin is a golden boy with national HQ. Crawford is one of those distasteful Tea Party types who can't always be counted on to vote in the interests of "the right people."

With both minority-majority districts and Congressional lines, we should know soon who is being taken care of, and who isn't

8:16 PM, January 31, 2011  
Anonymous c.b. said...

Mark, as solid republican as the third is.... would loosing sebastian county really threaten that seat??
I thought not... and without some help the fourth will elect Ross in perpetuity or until he runs for Gov.

8:39 AM, February 01, 2011  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

C.B. you are right that losing Sebastian would not flip the 3rd, but it could flip the 4th. But Gil Baker is not proposing sending ONLY Sebastian to the 4th. He wants to undo that by splitting Pulaski and sending a bunch of Democrat votes from the 2nd into the 4th.

IOW, he is not trying to help you guys in the 4th, the top priority is to protect Griffin in the 2nd by sending people who will vote against him into other districts while retaining those who will vote for him. I say that without animus. It may be a good move, it may be a sorry move, I am just describing the effect of the plan.

What I suggested (it is not a "plan" because I have not thought it out enough, nor am I a player enough to seriously have one) would have the same effect on the 4th as the plan Baker has. The 4th would just get its democrat votes from the 1st, whose counties are a better cultural fit than Pulaski with the district. The conservative votes would be picked up by shifting a river valley county, maybe even still Sebastian, to the 4th. The 2nd would give a conservative county up to the 1st to even things out. It would make the 4th the south of the state, the 3rd the NW, the 2nd the center, and the 1st the NE.

6:08 PM, February 01, 2011  
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