By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The 2008 elections were a landslide victory for the Democratic Party. They not only won the presidency by nearly 200 electoral votes but also picked up eight senate seats and expanded their majority in the house to 257.
In the aftermath of that whitewash, the Republican Party began to strategize on how they could claw their way back to power. One of those strategies became known as the REDMAP.
REDMAP, the Redistricting Majority Project, was based on the reality that a census is taken in this country every 10 years. And, that based on the results of the census, political boundaries ranging from municipal wards to congressional house districts are redrawn. What if, they theorized, they could gain control of that redistricting process? They could then draw the maps to virtually ensure a Republican majority in 2012.
States vary on the process used in determining district boundaries so they surveyed each one to determine which state legislatures had the most control. Elections for state houses and senate seats are rather low-profile affairs and not a lot of money is spent on them. They then reviewed each house and senate district in each of those states to determine which could likely be flipped from Democrat to Republican with the monetary support of the republican candidate.
By judiciously investing in statehouse campaigns around the country, REDMAP was a resounding success picking up 660 legislative seats across the nation. The GOP took control over both legislative chambers in 25 states and had both the legislature and the governorship in 21 of them.
Then, using their power to redraw the districts, they packed democratic voters together into the smallest number of districts; engineered Republican majorities in the majority of the districts and virtually insured the election of republican legislators and congressmen. They’re not ashamed of stacking the deck. This is an excerpt from their website:
“Election Day 2010 proved to be an even bigger “wave” election at the state level than anticipated. Republicans flipped at least 19 legislative bodies to Republican control and hold majorities in 10 of the 15 states that will gain or lose U.S. House seats and where the legislature plays a role in redrawing the map.
“Republicans have an opportunity to create 20-25 new Republican Congressional Districts through the redistricting process over the next five election cycles, solidifying a Republican House majority.
“We could not have succeeded and cannot continue to succeed without your support – Join Us Today.”
My point is not to beat up on the Republicans. It was an ingenious political strategy and I’m sure the Dems are kicking themselves from sea to shining sea for not thinking of it first.
But, it’s certainly not the kind of thing they teach kids about representative democracy in social studies classes. With modern computer technology and the amount of data that is available, politicians can engineer the elections any way they want to. It really has become a case of politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their politicians.
That’s why I’m in favor of the Independent Maps Coalition initiative.
Illinois is one of those states in which the legislative majority controls the redistricting process. That’s how we end up with super majorities in both houses and a guy like Mike Madigan being House Speaker for 31 of the last 33 years.
And, at least part of the reason Congress is so dysfunctional these days is because of gerrymandering. Solidly Democrat or Republican districts produce representatives reflective of those demographics who line up strongly on one side or the other and refuse to bend. Then we wonder why nothing gets done.
The Independent Maps Coalition is working to get a measure on the ballot that would amend the Illinois State Constitution and take the redistricting process out of the hands of the partisan politicians and give the power to the people. With districts drawn in an honest, objective and above board manor without consideration for party, our legislative districts would become more competitive and open the door to more candidates, more ideas and more honest debate.
There are only six other states that have independent redistricting processes because the power brokers are loathe to surrender an ounce of it, but every state should. Gamesmanship like REDMAP should never be repeated. Let’s let the voters pick their politicians rather than the other way around.
Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or (618) 659-1977.
By ALAN J. ORTBALS