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Thu, 23 Sep 2021 09:45
New York, like many other states, is enmeshed in the process of redrawing legislative districts. The outcome of the reconfiguring could be crucial in determining which party takes control of the House of Representatives next year. Clearly aware of the stakes, New York Democrats are considering a tactic that is usually a preserve of the Republican Party: gerrymandering. Guest: Nicholas Fandos, a political correspondent for The New York Times.
From the New York Times I'm Michael Barbaro, this is a daily. Over the past decade, Republicans have successfully redrawn congressional districts across the country to their political advantage. Now, Democrats in New York say it's time to use the same playbook. A stead Harnden spoke with our colleague Nick Fandos. It's Thursday, September 23rd. So, Nick, you're in New York now? Was a was there not enough good breakfast sandwiches in Washington DC for your liking? The bagel scene couldn't keep up, so I decided I needed to start looking a little further afield. So you trade it locales, but the fight in Washington was about, you know, things like voting rights and gerrymandering. That seems to be what's happening in New York also. Yeah, it's funny. I mean, literally, I spent a lot of my spring and summer really focused on Democrats pushing Congress to try and pass this major voting rights legislation, which also included a big provision that would have outlawed gerrymandering of congressional districts across the country. And lo and behold, I get up here to New York to start. A new job. And that's the first story that smacks me right in the face. I mean, New York, it turns out, is in the thick of it, and it's going to be a very big part of the national story on gerrymandering and elections in this coming year. What is happening in New York specifically related to gerrymander. So this year in New York, like every other state in the country, got back detailed population data from the 2020 census. And the Constitution says that once this data is in hand, showing where people have moved in. Populations have increased and declined. Every state has to go and redraw its congressional and legislative districts, and so where you lay the lines could go a long way in determining who's going to control the House of Representatives in DC right now, that's the Democrats by only the slimmest of margins. And Republicans think they have a good shot in the 2022 midterms to retake control of the house. And the redistricting process could really either help them do that or make it harder for them to do that, depending on who gets. The upper hand. Right. So coming out of the senses, state legislatures are empowered to draw these new maps. And those maps will develop the sort of rules of the game when we think about the midterms next year. But that's happening all across the country. And states. What specifically is different here about New York? Yeah. So there's a couple of things I think that are really interesting about New York, and we'll tell us something about this whole process. One, just as a baseline, New York is a really big state, right? So it's one of the largest single delegations. The Congress and the country up there with Texas and California and Florida, so you're just talking about a lot of seats right off the bat. But something happened in New York or was supposed to have changed after the last time this redistricting process played out in 2010 to 2012. Back then, lawmakers here who had a divided Republican and Democratic government really struggled to draw lines. It was like a total mess. They couldn't come to an agreement and ultimately had to ask courts to get involved, and they appointed a special master and drew lines that nobody really loved but they could live with. But as a part of this whole partisan fight, there was an agreement to put together for the first time a Commission that would be bipartisan and try to take the process of drawing district lines out of the hands of politicians and give it to a more independent group of people who would have to find a bipartisan. Solution. And so they put it before voters. It's a constitutional amendment. And in 2014 that was adopted by a wide margin. And what it meant is that this year, 2021, this redistricting cycle is supposed to be the first time that this independent Commission takes over and draws fair maps down the middle. That just represented the state as it was and didn't tip towards the Republicans or the Democrats. So the idea was that instead of Republican and Democratic lawmakers having some political fight about these maps, that this bipartisan Commission would come to an independent, politically neutral decision about the maps that would be fair. That's the idea and the ambition. But in the time between when New York voters went to the polls and approved this Commission created in 2014, and now voters also went and gave Democrats super majorities in the legislature in Albany and kept the governor's mansion under Democratic control. So basically, now you have Democrats in control of everything and so convincingly so that they can constitutionally come in and just overpower the independent Commission. You are speaking to my political nerd soul, but I wanna slow it down. You're saying that Democrats have a large enough majority in both the State Assembly and the state Senate that they can actually override anything that this independent, bipartisan Commission comes up with when it comes to redistricting? That's right. So that Commission can go and do its work and hold dozens of hearings and it could produce sterling maps. And, you know, if top Democrats in Albany or in Washington decided we don't like it, they can just tear it up and throw it out. As long as all their members go along with them, they, at the end of the day end up with the pen and the map. And, you know, there are some rules that govern how they proceed from there, but they basically can draw lines where they want. And there's an opportunity here, I think, that folks in Washington and Albany are beginning to see for them to really try and run the table and squeeze out a lot of Republicans. So with increased democratic control of this process, can you tell me what that actually looks like? What can Democrats do with this newfound power in relationship to these maps? Yeah. So if you kind of picture a map of New York State in front of yourself instead, you know, there's kind of three or four big regions. And basically in every one of those regions, in Long Island and New York City and upstate, there are Republican seats that are currently held by Republican members of Congress that Democrats could move more. Liberal voters into basically and turn blue. O if you take all of that as a whole and you consider the fact that New York also is going to lose 1 congressional seat overall because it didn't keep pace with growth in the rest of the country. What you could end up with is a scenario that would be something like 23 Democrats and only three Republicans representing the state of New York and Washington compared to 19 Democrats and eight Republicans today. That's a pretty significant swing. I mean as many as five. Republicans that could be losing their seats after next year's midterms. Wow. Now, of course candidates have to run and win, and flukes can always happen. Maybe they'll lose a winnable seat, but the conditions will be pretty favorable for them to get the result they want. Isn't this a bit ironic? I hear Democrats so often, particularly in Washington, talk about the need to eliminate gerrymandering. As you mentioned pushing that bill in DC that would stop states. I'm doing it. So you're saying that even as they're doing that in DC, Democrats on the state level are engaging in that same thing. Exactly. And that's one of the things that makes this so fascinating to watch. Remember, you know, New York senior senator, whose seat is not at stake here, but it's involved in this process, is Chuck Schumer, who's the Majority Leader of the Senate, who's leading the push for that bill that I spent so much time covering in my old job and, you know, the same day that this process was getting underway in New York. Omer was down in DC partisans across the country are sharpening their knives for a coming spade of vicious gerrymandering. Which further threatens to divide our politics. Talking about how horrible gerrymandering is and how we need to get rid of it on the national level end partisan gerrymandering stopped the score. And so you have this real kind of dissonance between Democrats stated values and what they're doing in states like New York and some others across the country. This is unacceptable. So the Senate must act. I yield the floor. But, you know, when I talk to Democrats, they are perfectly aware of this hypocrisy and basically say they're willing to live with it because they don't want their values to get in the way of what they see is at stake here. And we've got to remember, it's huge that the 2022 midterms will determine who is in control of Congress and gerrymandering. Laying down kind of the lines on the playing field is going to go a long way in determining that outcome. We'll be right back. So, Nick, how does what's happening in New York fit into the national picture and the midterm elections, which are, you know, somewhat shockingly, only about a year away? Yeah, that's right. I mean, they're hurtling at us fast. And, you know, obviously, any election in midterm presidential election hinges on a lot of things. But as we were just alluding to, New York is not the only state that's drawing its lines right now. Every state is drawing its lines, and that's Republican states, democratic states. And the aggregate picture of those is going to go a long way in determining. Who ends up with control of the house in 2022 or after that election? And not every state does it the same. There's kind of three types of states. There are states where Republicans and Democrats share power. That's how New York used to be. So basically, they've got to come up with some sort of compromise or agreement to move forward, and the lines are probably going to end up being fairer as a result. Then there are states that truly have independent commissions that can't be overridden by politicians in the legislature. So the biggest example is California. But there are Republican states as well, like Arizona for instance. And then there are a bunch of states where one party affectively gets to draw the lines. You know, there are Republican and Democratic states that fall into this category. Illinois comes to mind, Maryland on the Democratic side. There are some purple states like Ohio and Wisconsin where Republicans have really had the upper hand even as they're sometimes competitive around election time. But the biggest bulk are the states where Republicans are drawing the line. They're just simply more of them where they have total control over this process. And in places like Texas and Florida and North Carolina, they're going to be coming out looking to press their advantage as far as they can this cycle. And that could be across the country, maybe up to a dozen seats, enough to tip the balance in a House of Representatives that, you know, is really divided by a razor thin margin right now. So in that third bucket of states that are under the control of a political party, there's just much more of those states where Republicans are drawing the maps. So that puts pressure on New York to be a democratic counter to that. Yeah, I think that is exactly right, but it's even more significant, unlike a lot of those states, Texas or even Illinois, where they've already gerrymandered past maps. To kind of squeeze out benefits. You know, New York's last map, as we said, was drawn by a judge, was a little bit fairer. And so Democrats this time around are looking at potentially a much larger gain than any other state. We'll see. Put another way, if you look across the country, New York has the potential to be the single most powerful gerrymandering weapon that either party has in the country this redistricting cycle, and to potentially be a bulwark. Against some of those Republican gains to a degree that Democrats hope can keep them competitive in the fight to keep the House, is there a chance that the Court will step in and intervene against this New York redistricting, which as you mentioned is so key for Democrats nationally? Yeah, I think that this is a really important question because, you know, in a state like New York, are really any of these others, the party that is not empower? And even voters are almost certain to file lawsuits challenging? These different maps, and it may well be that state courts weigh in, and it's happened in recent election cycles in several different states where they've come in and struck down certain districts or said you need to redraw this. But if you zoom out to the federal level at the same time, the federal courts really starting with the Supreme Court, have sent a couple of really strong signals since the last redistricting cycle played out that they're not interested in waiting in here in one case. The justices pretty directly signaled that they're just not interested in getting involved in partisan fights over district lines. And in another case, which was a real landmark in 2013, the justices struck down a key provision at the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to present their maps to the federal government for kind of pre approval before they took effect to make sure that they weren't discriminatory. So if you take. Both of those things together, this is going to be the first national redistricting cycle that proceeds, really without those major guardrails that have governed it in the past. Or are they kept politicians from really testing the outer limits of what they could do? And you know, nobody knows exactly what the result of that is going to be, but it's probably going to take us to some places that we haven't seen before. OK, so if legal challenges to New York and other states redistricting plans are unlikely to be successful, at least at the federal level, and we expect these maps to be redrawn and politicized ahead of the midterms, where does that leave us? What are you taking away from this redistricting fight in New York and nationally? Yeah, well, if you'll bear with me for just a second instead to to zoom back really far. Gerrymandering has been a part of American politics basically since the founding of the Republic. It gets its name from former governor of Massachusetts, as you probably know, Eldridge Jerry, who's signed a new district map into effect in the early 19th century that was so warped that had this, you know, long kind of curving district in Massachusetts that looked like a salamander. And so its critics combined his name with that shape and came up with gerrymander. And it's been a. Proud or perhaps embarrassing political tradition in this country ever since. But, you know, I think what I take away from this cycle, and if you look at the past, several states are getting more and more effective at eking out partisan advantage from this process. And so, you know, the fact that the federal courts are imposing fewer limits mean that partisan lawmakers have even more latitude and incentive to go and try and push the boundaries to eke out. More advantage districts become more partisan. You know, deeper blue or deeper red and less purple. And that affects what kind of people run for office. You know, for instance, you take a district that right now is your classic true swing district. It's got Republicans and Democrats and some independents. Well, if you're a candidate that's going to succeed there under those conditions, you're going to present yourself and focus on issues that are very different than if you're competing in a dark blue or dark red district. Where, you know, your primary challenge is not winning a general election against the other party, but winning a primary election against your own party, where ideological purity maybe is more important than what you've accomplished in Washington or your ability to make a deal. And if you replicate that across dozens or hundreds of districts across the country, you can start to see why Congress is such a flaming mess most of the time. You know, what you're describing seems like a real rock and hard. Place situation for Democrats at once. They are behind in this kind of national race because they have not engaged in that level of partisan gerrymandering, didn't have the power to. And then at the same time, they're seeking to engage in that level to make up that gap. Where do we go from here? It feels like we're in a situation where the parties feel not only like they gerrymander because they can, but they gerrymander because they feel they must. Yeah, I I wish I had a clear answer to that. I think, you know, if you look across the country. Every year we are seeing more and more states where the voters, either by ballot initiative or demand, do put in place real independent authorities to try and break the back of this thing. But then there's states like New York where voters think they're doing that and actually The thing is doesn't have the desired effect and partisan interest overcomes it. So it may be that we're headed to a place where voters are just fed up. But, you know, it may also be the case that voters are kind of shaped and respond to this. Reality, too, and become more partisan themselves. Democrats that I've heard from both on social media, you know, and just in my e-mail inbox, who were adamant supporters of the federal legislation that would get rid of gerrymandering that I was covering all summer that are now coming and saying basically like, you know, good for them for not backing down, good for them for not letting the Republicans be the only people competing on the gerrymandering front. To me that suggests that maybe voters are just going to let this go on for a while longer. Right. There's the assumption that this is an inherent perversion of democracy that voters would be mad at. But maybe Congress is more partisan because we're more partisan ourselves. Yeah, I don't know. It's that maybe we're just in a feedback loop and that's where we're stuck for now and it's just going to continue on and on. Thank you, Nick, for your time. Hey, thanks so much. It's happy to do it. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to another day. In terms of the tone of the call, it was a friendly it was. On Wednesday, President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to repair their damaged relationship during a phone call, their first since France reacted with outrage to a US deal to sell submarines to Australia. That deal had undermined a French deal to sell submarines to Australia. We're hopeful, and the president is hopeful. This is a step in returning to normal in a long, important, abiding relationship that the United States has with France. It was after the call, France said, that it would reinstate the French ambassador to the US, whom it had recalled to France in an act of protest. And. A bipartisan congressional effort to reform policing in the wake of nationwide protest over police brutality has collapsed. Senators working on the reform said that negotiations had deadlocked over, among other things, the question of whether police officers who commit misconduct should continue to be granted immunity from civil lawsuits. Democrats wanted to end the protection, but Republicans. Refused. Today's episode was produced by Sydney Harper and Austin Mitchell with help from Soraya Shockley and Rob Zippo. It was edited by MJ Davis Lynn and Dave Shaw's original music by Marian Lozano and engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landberg of Wonderland. That's it for the daily. I'm Michael obaro. See you tomorrow.