“The League of Dangerous Mapmakers”
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Robert Draper, my former colleague at TEXAS MONTHLY, has written a piece about redistricting in the current issue of the Atlantic. One of the main characters in his story is Tom Hofeller, the former redistricting director of the Republican National Committee, now a paid consultant and a master of the dark arts of cartography.
Draper, the grandson of Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, delves deep into the mysteries of redistricting, focusing on Texas, with some attention paid to North Carolina, California, and a few other states. The problem for Republicans in Texas, as readers know, was that the state’s population grew by 4.3 million over the last decade. Hispanics accounted for 2.8 million of this growth and African-Americans for another half-million. The growth rate for Anglo Texans was a paltry 4.2 percent. Draper writes:
“In other words, without the minority growth, Texas–now officially a majority-minority state–Texas would not have received a single new [congressional] district. The possibility that a GOP map-drawer would use all those historically Democratic-leaning transplants as a means of gaining Republican seats might strike a redistricting naif as undemocratic. And yet, that’s exactly what the Texas redistricting bosses did last year.”
Many readers will recall the discussions that took place when the numbers became known. Should the new districts be divided evenly between R’s and D’s? Should Republicans, as the majority party, be entitled to three of the four seats? Draper says, “… The Texans produced lavishly brazen maps that resulted in a net gain of four districts for Republicans and none for minority populations.” This is, of course, incorrect. The actual result was that Republicans got three seats, the Democrats one, a majority-minority district that merged predominantly Hispanic west Dallas County with predominantly African-American east Tarrant County and is likely to elect Marc Veasey, an African-American Democrat in November—an outcome that seems fair to me, given the relative strength of the parties.
Draper quotes Hofeller as saying that the Texas redistricting process should serve as “a cautionary tale of how a remap effort can go wrong.”
“The new horror story will be Texas, which stood, this past cycle, as a powerful example of how reckless a redistricting process can become,” Draper writes.
Apparently, relations between the state and the RNC’s redistricting experts did not go well. Draper quotes an unnamed GOP legislative leader as saying Hofeller and Republican National Committee counsel Dale Oldham “created an adversarial relationship” and “rubbed raw” the Legislature’s bigwigs. Texas instead used inexperienced staff and legislative point men, Draper says.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., the House GOP campaign committee’s vice chair overseeing congressional remapping efforts for this cycle, told Draper the state’s legislative leaders solicited no advice. “Well, the Texas Legislature basically told me, ’We’re Texas, and we’re gonna handle our maps,’” Westmoreland said. “You know, I’m just saying that when you have a population increase of 4 million, and the majority of that is minority, you’d better take that into consideration.”
* * * *
It’s pretty clear what happened. Hofeller, Oldham, and Westmoreland met with the staffers who were entrusted with drawing the maps and warned them not to overreach. So what did they do? They overreached. “We’re Texas and we’re going to handle our own maps.” Yes, that sounds exactly like what our boys would say. “We don’t need no stinkin’ help from Washington.” I don’t know who the “bigwigs” referred to in the story were, but they got what they deserved: a federal court ruling that the Texas maps engaged in intentional discrimination. This is what happens when the attorney general acts like a politician rather than a lawyer. It was evident from the moment the map for the Texas House of Representatives came out that the scheme ignored Hispanic growth. Why Abbott thought they could get away with it is a mystery to me.
Well, the Republicans have had their fun. With continued growth among minorities, and no prospect for growth among Anglo Texans, 2011 is likely to be the last time Republicans will control the redistricting process in Texas.