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The Politics We Don’t See Matter as Much as Those We Do – The New York Times

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Some of the most important developments in politics do not happen every election cycle, but every ten years, when politicians scrap the old battleground map and struggle to replace it with a new one more favorable to their interests.

Steven Hill, a former fellow at New America, described how this works in his still pertinent 2003 book “Fixing Elections: The Failure of America’s Winner Take All Politics.”

“Beginning in early 2001, a great tragedy occurred in American politics,” Hill wrote. As a result of that tragedy, “most voters had their vote rendered nearly meaningless, almost as if it had been stolen from them” as “hallowed notions such as ‘no taxation without representation’ and ‘one person, one vote’ have been drained of their vitality, reduced to empty slogans.”

Hill was referring to “the process of redistricting” that he argued was legalized “theft” engaged in by “the two major political parties, their incumbents, and their consultants,” which Hill said was “part of the everyday give-and-take (mostly take) of America’s winner-take-all politics.”

Hill first made his argument at a time when both parties were still colluding in developing new districts designed to protect incumbents, Republicans and Democrats alike. Since then, the parties have abandoned any semblance of bipartisanship and are now fully engaged in an all-out battle for control of state legislatures.

A basic objective remains the same, however: to effectively disenfranchise key segments of the electorate.

As Devin Caughey, a political scientist at M.I.T. and the lead author of “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Political Process,” explained in an email:

The goal of partisan gerrymandering is to maximize one party’s seat share given their vote share. The means to this end is drawing districts that waste as many votes for the opposing party as possible, while wasting as few votes as possible for one’s own party.

In addition to creating wasted votes — thus undermining a key principle of democracy — an additional consequence of gerrymandering is what Nicholas Stephanopoulos of Harvard Law School calls “representational distortion”: the adoption of policies that do not have majority support in the electorate.

Stephanopoulos, the author of the 2018 paper “The Causes and Consequences of Gerrymandering,” described “one glaring example,” in an email:

Democrats got more votes than Republicans in the 2012 and 2018 Wisconsin state legislative elections. So in a world without gerrymandering, Democrats would have been able to block all kinds of conservative policies between 2012 and 2014, including environmental deregulation, tax cuts, abortion restrictions, gun deregulation, etc.

Instead, Republican majorities in both branches of the Wisconsin legislature enacted all of those policies, as well as a package of anti-union measures.

In the 2018 election, Democrats won 53 percent of all votes cast in the Wisconsin State Assembly contests, but won 36 percent of the State Assembly seats.

In his paper, Stephanopoulos wrote:

What is undeniably a democratic malfunction, though, is representation that does not reflect the ideological preferences of the electorate — representation that is much more liberal or much more conservative than voters actually want.

His conclusion?

Single-party control of redistricting fosters partisan unfairness more than any other variable, and that such unfairness translates directly into ideologically distorted representation.

Caughey is also concerned about gerrymandering because it leads to a denial of political representation of the majority electorate:

Our basic point about distortion of representation is that partisan gerrymandering pulls state policies in the ideological direction of the party that controls redistricting. This policy effect follows from two facts: (1) gerrymandering allows one party to capture more seats than it would otherwise control, and (2) the occupants of the extra seats vote very differently from the members of the opposite party who would otherwise have occupied those seats.

Since the party in power can “skew policies toward its preferences,” Caughey continues, “the policy effects of additional seats are greatest when party control hangs in the balance. Thus, gerrymandering is most consequential when it gives one party a majority of seats when it would otherwise have a minority.”

Richard Pildes, a law professor at N.Y.U. and an outspoken critic of distorted legislative districts, wrote in an email:

Gerrymandering is antithetical to democracy; politicians should have to compete for popular support under neutral, fair rules of engagement — rather than being able to manipulate the playing field to entrench themselves and their allies in power.

Pildes argues that gerrymandering is

about as pure an example as we have of insiders rigging the system for their own benefit. It also poisons state legislatures, when the decade begins with one party ramming down the throat of the other a manipulative map that affects the state for a decade.

The fight to control redistricting next year is taking place in relatively low visibility races for legislative seats in states ranging from Kansas to Texas to Minnesota.

 Signs advertising the 2020 census cover a boarded up business during the coronavirus outbreak in March in Seattle.
Credit…Brian Snyder/Reuters

The Princeton Election Consortium has produced a detailed analysis of those elections in six states, Texas, Minnesota, Connecticut, Kansas, Florida and North Carolina. The consortium, which is headed by Sam Wang, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton, identifies the key “races where voters have the most leverage to prevent partisan gerrymandering in 2021. A few hundred voters mobilized in the right districts could bring bipartisan control of redistricting to a state, leading to fairer districts for a decade.”

The consortium found, for example, that a cluster of eight Kansas state house districts in Johnson County, an affluent suburb of Kansas City, offers key opportunities for Democratic voters and donors to shift the balance of power statewide.

In a reflection of partisan enthusiasm, in 2019, the first full year of the current election cycle, Johnson County Democrats outraised Johnson County Republicans $108,314 to $58,480.

In North Carolina, the consortium identified three districts in the Highpoint-Greensboro-Winston Salem region as strong targets for Democrats seeking to wrest control of the North Carolina house.

Gerrymandering battlegrounds vary widely, both in terms of the parties’ goals and strategies.

In Kansas, for example, where Republicans overwhelmingly dominate both branches of the legislature, the Democratic goal is to pick up just one more seat in the Kansas House. That would give the party enough votes to block a Republican gerrymander by preventing the Republican majority from overriding a veto by the Democratic governor of a Republican redistricting plan. In other words, without veto-proof majorities in both branches, Republicans would be forced to work with Democrats in drawing both legislative and congressional district lines.

In Minnesota, the Democratic goal is to gain a State Senate majority by winning at least two additional seats. If successful, Democrats would then have complete control over redistricting — a so-called trifecta — the governor, the State Senate and the state House, with Republicans left powerless.

Republicans currently have trifectas in 21 states, Democrats in 15 — the remaining states have divided government. Fourteen states, including California, Ohio and Michigan, have shifted control over redistricting from the state legislature to an independent commission. Eleven others use independent commissions either to advise legislatures or to step in when no agreement can be reached. Republicans control both branches of the legislature in 29 states to the Democrats 19, with the only split in Minnesota. (Nebraska’s state government is unicameral.)

For partisans engaged in state legislative battles, anti-democratic concerns over gerrymandering fall on largely deaf ears — these activists are forced by the rules of the game to compete in redistricting contests because the stakes are so high.

Take the issue of voting rights and the sustained efforts by Republicans to suppress turnout, especially among pro-Democratic minorities.

Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California-Irvine, wrote by email:

The trend at the Supreme Court and in the lower courts, increasingly stacked with Trump appointees, is a pullback on federal protection of voting rights. That means that many voting rights struggles will begin and end with what state legislatures — and in some cases state supreme courts applying state constitutions — say the rules will be.

Fredrick Cornelius Harris, a professor of political science and director of the Center on African-American Politics and Society at Columbia, warned that current developments — the likely census undercount of minorities and the poor and the Trump administration’s discouragement of immigrants from filling out census forms, together with the Covid-19 pandemic — will weaken the political leverage of minorities post-2021 redistricting.

These factors, Harris wrote by email, “could impact the reapportionment of seats in state legislatures,” before adding that

A weakened voting rights act — this will be the first reapportionment since Shelby County vs. Holder — could have an impact on the number of majority-minority districts in the South. Since Republicans run state houses in the Deep South, there can be a potential loss of seats for Democrats and Black/Latino legislators in some of those states if Republicans choose to do so.

In many of the key states where state legislative contests are fought most intensely, Democrats are generally on offense and Republican on defense. A major factor driving this difference is the continuing suburban animosity toward Trump that is pushing many independents and nominally Republican voters toward the Democratic Party, as the 2018 election demonstrated.

This pattern of Republican vulnerability has proved especially true in Texas, where Democrats are determined to capitalize on the major gains they have made in state and federal contests in the suburbs of Dallas, Houston and other cities.

Robert M. Stein, a political scientist at Rice University who has been closely following contests in Texas where Democrats need to gain nine seats to take control of the state house, wrote me:

The polling I am seeing and expect to see in the next few weeks suggests the Democrats have a better than even chance — 55 percent likelihood — of picking up more than nine seats.

In addition, Stein wrote,

the registration numbers are moving away from the Republicans’ previous 1 million voter advantage. Since 2017, 5 percent more Democrats registered to vote in Texas than Republicans and this advantage appears to be widening since the first of the year. The demographic shift is bearing fruit for Texas Democrats and in a predictable fashion.

In the national fund-raising competition, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is slightly behind the Republican State Leadership Committee for the period from January 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020, according to I.R.S. records, $28.1 million to $32.8 million.

These figures do not, however, take into account the surge in support of other Democratic groups involved in state legislative contests. The most important of these is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder, which has raised more than $50 million since its founding in 2017. The committee backs Democratic legislative candidates but requires them to support efforts to restrict gerrymandering, including the creation of independent redistricting commissions.

While Democrats are on the offensive, especially in suburban legislative seats across the county, the party is fighting an uphill battle overall.

Charles Nuttycombe, director of CNalysis, an election forecasting firm, assessed the likely outcomes of state legislative races in “The State of the States: The Legislatures,” an essay published at Crystal Ball, the political website run by Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. Nuttycombe’s conclusion is best summarized in the sub-headline: “Don’t expect much overall change even as many chambers are competitive.”

One of the major problems Democrats face is the unexpected resilience of a $30 million 2010 Republican program called Redmap — the Redistricting Majority Project. This exceptionally successful initiative was developed by Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, who recognized the crucial role of state legislatures in determining the balance of power in Congress.

As Reuters reported, in the 2010 election, the Republican Redmap project

netted some 700 state seats, increasing its share of state House and Senate seats by almost 10 percent, from approximately 3200 to over 3900. It took over both legislative chambers in 25 states and won total control of 21 states (legislature and governorship) — the greatest such victory since 1928.

Christopher Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University, is a co-author with Devin Caughey and Chris Tausanovitch, a political scientist at U.C.L.A., of “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Political Process,” which I mentioned earlier. Warshaw emailed me about the continued success of Redmap:

It’s really remarkable how extreme and durable some of the gerrymanders from 2011-12 have been. A number of studies have shown that the Republican gerrymanders in places like Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were among the most extreme in history. In Congress, these gerrymandered maps probably gained Republicans at least a dozen seats. One study recently estimated that Republicans gained 27 seats in Congress from the 2011 maps.

In the case of Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Warshaw pointed out,

Republicans have continued to control the majority of seats year after year in both chambers of the state legislatures. This is despite the fact that Democrats received a majority of the votes in state legislative elections in all three states in 2018. In some of these states, Democrats would probably need to win the popular vote by more than 10 percent to win control of the state legislature. So while I do think that Democrats will win control of a couple more chambers in 2020 if Biden continues to have an 8+ point lead over President Trump, it’s going to be very difficult for Democrats to overcome the Republican gerrymanders in places like Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

In other words, Democrats may have the wind at their backs this year, but the roadblocks Republicans have constructed over the course of the past decade are quite likely to prove insurmountable, for quite some time, no matter which party takes the White House, no matter how meaningless voters find the ballots they cast and no matter how many American voters are deprived of a voice.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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16 MLAs retiring from BC politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation – Victoria News

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As a number of provincial politicians have bowed out of running for re-election ahead of Oct. 24, a national tax reform advocacy group is highlighting the cost of political retirement– to the tune of $20 million – with taxpayers footing the bill.

“While we thank these retiring politicians for their work, taxpayers need to know the huge cost of these gold-plated pensions,” said Kris Sims, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“These pensions simply aren’t affordable for taxpayers. MLAs need to reform their pension plan.”

According to the government, MLA pensions are calculated by taking the highest earning years of the retiring MLAs and factoring in their years of work. The annual pension payments are capped at 70 per cent of the highest earning years.

That means that for every $1 the politicians contribute to their own pension plans, taxpayers pay $4, Sims said.

“It’s time to end these rich pension schemes,” said Sims, adding that MLAs not seeking re-election are allowed to collect the equivalent of their salaries for up to 15 months while they look for new jobs, and they get up to $9,000 if they need skills training.

The federation calculated the expected pensions for 16 retiring MLAs, and determined that former house speaker and BC Liberal MLA Linda Reid is expected to collect the highest per-year amount, roughly $107,000 annually when she turns 65 years old.

Reid, who represented the Richmond South Centre since 1991, is the longest-serving woman in B.C.’s government history.

Other estimated pension totals for MLAs include:

  • Tracy Redies, B.C. Liberal MLA – ineligible due to less than six years in office.
  • Claire Trevena, NDP cabinet minister – estimated $80,000 per year, $1.9 million lifetime.
  • Shane Simpson, NDP cabinet minister – estimated $80,000 per year, $1.9 million lifetime.
  • Scott Fraser, NDP cabinet minister – estimated $80,000 per year, $1.9 million lifetime.
  • Carole James, NDP cabinet minister – estimated $82,000 per year, $2 million lifetime.
  • Michelle Mungall, NDP cabinet minister – estimated $58,000 per year, $1.4 million lifetime.
  • Judy Darcy, NDP cabinet minister – estimated $37,000 per year, $647,000 lifetime.
  • Doug Donaldson, NDP cabinet minister – estimated $58,000 per year, $1.4 million lifetime.
  • Rich Coleman, former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister – estimated $109,000 per year, $2.6 million lifetime.
  • John Yap, former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister – estimated $65,000 per year, $1.5 million lifetime
  • Darryl Plecas, Independent Speaker – estimated $38,000 per year, $714,000 lifetime.
  • Andrew Weaver, former Green Party Leader – estimated $31,000 per year, $764,000 lifetime.
  • Donna Barnett, B.C. Liberal MLA – estimated $46,000 per year, $400,000 lifetime.
  • Linda Larson – B.C. Liberal MLA – estimated $29,000 per year, $469,000 lifetime.
  • Ralph Sultan, former B.C. Liberal MLA – estimated $74,000 per year.
  • Linda Reid, former B.C. Liberal Speaker – estimated $107,000 per year, $2.6 million lifetime.

@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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The Only "Black Issue" In American Politics Is Opposition to Racial Inequality

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We’re about a month away from the November Elections.

One of the voting blocs that could decide the presidential race this year is the African American vote. Both candidates have talked quite a bit about what a vote for them would mean for Black Americans. But both of them have mischaracterized African American political views and loyalties in recent months.

The existence of the Black electoral monolith is evidence of a critical defect not in Black America, but in the American practice of democracy.” — Theodore Johnson, Brennan Center for Justice

That’s nothing new, writes Theodore Johnson in the New York Times. He joins Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today and says that Americans have viewed Black voters as a monolith without really taking the time to understand the diversity of political thoughts and views that exists among Black voters.

Listen: Theodore Johnson on the African American vote that could decide the 2020 election.


Excerpt

Theodore Johnson is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Johnson writes, “An enduring unity at the ballot box is not confirmation that Black voters hold the same views on every contested issue, but rather that they hold the same view on the one most consequential issue: racial equality. The existence of the Black electoral monolith is evidence of a critical defect not in Black America, but in the American practice of democracy. That defect is the space our two-party system makes for racial intolerance and the appetite our electoral politics has for the exploitation of racial polarization — to which the electoral solidarity of Black voters is an immune response.”

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Young evangelicals are defying their elders' politics – CNN

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For this, we largely have young people to thank. Compounding natural disasters, staggering property damage and heart wrenching loss of life have flown too comfortably under the radar for years. Election cycle after election cycle passed by with barely a climate mention. Then the kids organized. Only now — after millions of young people have been striking, sitting in and turning out to vote more than in the past — is climate change a major election issue.
Among this growing throng of youth climate activists are some you might not expect: young evangelical Christians.
The organization I work with, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, educates and mobilizes young evangelical Christians across the country to take action to address the climate crisis. Over the last several years, I have had hundreds of conversations with young Christians about how our faith should inform our pursuit of climate justice. A common narrative runs through almost every story I hear.
It goes something like this. A young Christian is raised in a close family, is regularly involved in various church activities and often even attends a Christian K-12 school. She is taught values like compassion, love of neighbor and a high view of scripture. Yet, she is handed few tools for how these values should be brought to bear in the public square. Her political formation is uneven, mostly implicit and almost wholly yoked to Republican politics.
Because no political party can completely capture the fullness of the values she was taught, her community’s embrace of partisan politics creates in her dissonance and disillusionment. The tension is most pronounced when it comes to issues that seem so clearly close to the heart of God — like environmental protection and the humane treatment of refugees and immigrants — yet seem so far from the political priorities of her community.
Sometimes there is a breaking point. For many White evangelicals, it was the 2016 election when, according to Pew, eight in 10 of our parents, grandparents, classmates and neighbors voted for President Donald Trump.
Case in point: in 2017, I brought a group of 20 or so Christian college students to meet with staff in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. When asked how many of them were Republican, student after student shared how they had grown up conservative and still held many conservative values but could not claim the Party because it had left them behind on climate change.
For young Christians to say this inside the office of one of the most powerful Republicans in the country is significant. It is a direct challenge to the majority of leaders within institutional evangelicalism — including many of our own pastors and denominational leaders — who remain fully aligned with the Republican Party.
The challenge of bringing our values to bear in the public square is nothing new, and it is not unique to Christians. We all possess nuanced values that do not fit neatly into the binary two-party system of modern American democracy. Yet for young evangelicals, this task is especially hard. It includes the potential for alienation from friends, family and worshiping communities. Psychology tells us what we all intuitively know: isolation from those we love is painful, and we avoid it if we can.
Still, many young people — including some young evangelicals — choose separation anyway because it is ultimately healthier and more sustainable. Many other young evangelicals are forging a new way forward by leaning into the evangelical tradition itself.
Like most of society, the US church is badly polarized. Political differences are driving a deeper and deeper wedge between the faithful in all major Christian traditions — whether Catholic, mainline Protestant, or evangelical. Yet, the church is not merely one more social club filled with like-minded individuals. At its best, it is a community whose roots run deeper than politics. It is grounded in story — both the big story of God’s saving work in the world and all the smaller stories of how God’s transforming power is showing up in the lives of God’s people. Telling these stories to one another and to the wider world is what many evangelical Christians call testimony.
Young evangelicals across the US are harnessing the tradition of testimony in their communities to tell the story of how God is empowering them to address climate change as an act of love toward God’s world and toward their neighbors. They are grabbing microphones in front of their churches, leading Bible studies, navigating fraught holiday conversations and going out for coffee with their grandfather and his skeptical friends. And it is changing hearts and minds.
This “in-house” work is matched by young evangelicals’ burgeoning climate activism in wider society. Young Christians are writing op-eds, marching in the streets, and meeting with their elected officials. Students are starting clubs on their Christian college campuses to educate and organize their peers, even transitioning to digital organizing and video group meetings in the era of Covid-induced distance-learning.
And this year, they are getting registered and making plans to vote. Republicans have been able to comfortably rely on evangelical votes for decades, largely by claiming the moral high ground on abortion. Abortion still factors significantly in the electoral calculations of many young evangelicals. Yet more and more, it is being incorporated into a more holistic ethic of life that recognizes climate change and the inhumane treatment of refugees — among others — as threats to the sacredness of life too.
Candidates and elected officials may want to take notice. Though our parents and grandparents have dictated evangelical political prerogatives in the past, Millennials and Gen Z are ascendant. Almost 40% of eligible voters in 2020 will belong to these 40-and-under generations, according to Pew. Also, according to Pew, among the quarter or so of all 2020 voters who will be evangelical, one-sixth of them could be younger than 30. In elections as close as November’s is shaping up to be, those margins can turn into landslides.
And even though younger voters have not historically turned out in the same numbers as our elders, that may be changing too. According to the Census Bureau, turnout among 18-29-year-olds jumped 79% between 2014 and 2018 and what my colleagues and I are seeing on the ground in our work points to a cohort that is unusually motivated to have their voices heard at the polls this year. This crop of young voters — shaped by childhoods overshadowed by endless war, historic recessions and the existential threat of ecological collapse — may be poised to become the exception that proves this rule.
If so, count on young evangelicals to play our part, both in 2020 and beyond. We’ve grown weary of the current expression of evangelical politics, stoked by Trump’s Republican Party, that seeks to convince us that faithful civic engagement is a black and white, “us vs. them” proposition where danger to our way of life lurks around every corner and that our overriding political concern should be our own cultural power and comfort rather than advancing the good of our neighbors.
Many of our peers have simply left the evangelical tradition behind, fed up with how selfish some of the followers of our famously selfless Savior have become. Those of us who remain are fashioning a new way forward. One steeped in evangelical values, marked by unapologetic testimony, and shaped by a holistic ethic of life that understands climate chaos, the abuse of immigrants, the demonization of our LGBTQ neighbors and the termination of unborn life as equal assaults on the image of God.
And we’re voting like it.

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