Census means votes later — and cash now

How Democrats and Republicans are talking about redistricting in 2011 to raise a ton of money in 2010

Topics: 2010 Elections, 2010 Census, Democratic Party, Republican Party,

Census means votes later -- and cash now

The e-mail that went out from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson a few weeks ago was specifically designed to stir panic among the Democratic faithful. “With a historic 37 governorships up for election in 2010, the GOP has crafted a scheme to win statehouses and put a Scott Brown in each of these states to gerrymander their party back into power,” it read. “You see, governors have the power to influence the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts. And the Republican Party has a blueprint to manipulate this process to their electoral advantage, courtesy of Tom DeLay and Karl Rove.”

Tom DeLay! Karl Rove! The boogeymen of the last 10 years were back, front and center and still up to no good. Fortunately, recipients could banish them again very easily. “We can’t let them get away with it,” Richardson continued. “Please contribute $25 or more to the [Democratic Governors Association] today — and help us turn back the ‘Republican Comeback.’”

As Census forms hit mailboxes around the country this month, solicitations like that one are also on the rise. Republicans and Democrats are using the Census, and the once-a-decade chance to redraw the boundaries of House districts that it produces, to corral people who wouldn’t ordinarily care much about what goes on in a statehouse far from their own state to give money to help down-ballot races. Spending on state races this year by national party committees run out of Washington could soar past $100 million, setting new records.

The theory is that whoever controls the statehouse controls the map in redistricting. In a handful of states expected to gain or lose House seats once the Census is done, control of the statehouse could tip one way or the other pretty easily this fall. Republicans have historically done a better job of focusing on how the district maps are drawn. This time, both parties have put big names on their efforts — one-time Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie and former House campaign committee chairman Tom Reynolds for the GOP, which has given its program the intimidating-sounding name REDMAP. (It stands for Redistricting Majority Project.) Ex-Hillary Clinton confidant Harold Ickes is doing similar work for the Democrats.

But for now, most of the attention from political operatives in Washington on the Census seems to be drawn by the money. Redistricting fights in 2011 provide for good fundraising pitches in 2010. And the committees are, to some extent, just using the Census as yet another talking point to suck in cash. If you listened to Richardson and gave the DGA $25, for instance, there would be no guarantee it would wind up being spent in a state where the Census results are likely to change the makeup of the House for the next decade; the DGA doesn’t earmark its funds for any particular race. Same thing for a special fund run by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which hopes to raise $20 million to help elect Democrats to state House and Senate seats; officials haven’t decided which races to target yet. Which means the Census could change the makeup of legislatures around the country and the House for the next 10 years. But the main reason people in Washington are suddenly talking so much about it is that it’s also opening a lot of checkbooks now.

“People who have a history of giving to the DGA … they get it,” Ickes told Salon. Most of his work for the group is focusing on big donors. “But the people who don’t have a history, they’re sort of, ‘Why are you talking to me about governors? I deal with senators and presidents and members of the House.’” When Ickes mentions Gillespie and Republican Governors Association chairman Haley Barbour, and starts talking about the prospect of new GOP districts all over the country, though, they come around quickly.

The reason redistricting is proving to be such an irresistible cash cow is that the committees talking about it now — on both sides of the aisle — are organized as so-called 527s, regulated by the IRS instead of federal election authorities. They can raise as much money as they want, and depending on state laws, turn it over in big chunks to gubernatorial or state legislative campaigns.

How much impact all that money has on the ostensible purpose of giving it — drawing the maps of House seats from 2012 through 2020 — isn’t entirely clear. In a state like Texas — projected to gain four House seats next year — control of the redistricting process could come down to a handful of local races. The GOP runs the state House by a 77-73 margin; if Democrats can flip a couple seats, they’d be in a position to keep the House from approving any redistricting plan, which could mean the courts — not the politicians — draw up the maps. And since Texas was the site of the Republicans’ greatest map-making victory after the 2000 Census, that would be enough for Democrats to call it a win. (Some Texas lawmakers fled the state in 2003 to try to keep the redistricting plan from going through, but that ultimately failed, and a lot of Republicans ended up representing Texas in the House.)

“A court-drawn plan in Texas is going to be far better for Democrats than the one they’ve got now or the Republican-drawn plan,” says Tim Storey, who tracks redistricting and the Census for the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.

Other states that could see statehouses tip just before the Census gives or takes away House seats: Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania, projected to lose a seat; GOP-controlled Michigan, which will also lose a seat; Democratic Nevada, which will gain a seat; Democratic Ohio, which could lose two seats; and Democratic New York, which could lose a seat.

That list means Democrats are playing a lot of defense. All told, Democrats control 27 legislatures, and Republicans 14; holding on to power in the states with close margins will help them. But despite the interest from the DGA and the RGA, governors haven’t historically been that involved in redistricting, letting state legislatures get into the weeds of the intricate computerized maps instead. And sometimes divided state governments wind up producing compromise maps, where Republicans and Democrats mutually agree to shift voters around in districts so neither side has much need to reach out past their base. Which means the line from “give money so our side can win this election” to “now we get new House seats” isn’t quite as straightforward as the fundraisers would like people to believe it is.

That’s not to say no one’s trying to figure out what the Census might actually mean for the makeup of the House in a few years. Tucked away in some quiet offices around Washington, there are a few people working with Census data and playing around with computerized mapping programs. Four years ago, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees launched a 527 group called the Foundation for the Future, precisely to prepare for redistricting and talk — early — to operatives in states who will be doing the real work next year. On the Republican side, a longtime operative named Tom Hoeffel is helping work on early drafts of possible maps.

“There are lots of opportunities for both parties,” says Ricky Feller, AFSCME’s deputy political director, who’s working on some of the redistricting effort. “You look at some of the states — clearly, the Republicans did a very good job where they were in control of the process in the last round of redistricting. There are potential opportunities for us to kind of undo some of the damage.” For now, though, both parties may be looking more at the potential fundraising opportunity than at anything that comes further down the line.

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>