Monday, July 7, 2014

Altered States: The Legacy of Elbridge Gerry

When you look at the breakdown of red and blue states in this country, it is staggering to me that Republicans control 30 state legislatures and 29 governor mansions.  Particularly disconcerting is that traditionally Democratic labor states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are firmly in the hands of Republicans.

Despite the 2011 protests that rocked Madison for several weeks and the recall elections which followed, Republicans managed to hold onto the state senate and governor's mansion, and subsequently gain seats in the 2012 election.  Walker and the Republicans were also able to get their anti-collective bargaining legislation through the state legislature, and continue to enforce these laws even though state courts had deemed the laws unconstitutional.

So why do union states continue to vote Republican, when it is clear that Republican leaders are anti-labor?  Looking at the demographics, it seems the main reason is the Republican ability to turn the vote in rural and suburban areas.  Pro-Labor appears to be largely concentrated in urban areas, and Republican state legislatures have gone out of their way to gerrymander voting districts so that rural and suburban districts carry an inordinate amount of representation.  Republicans hold a huge edge in the Wisconsin state house (60-30) and a significant edge in the state senate (18-15) despite Democrat candidates having won more votes overall than Republicans in the 2012 state elections.

This is a pattern that repeats itself across the country, making it very difficult for Democrats to retake states that they continue to win in national elections.  You take Michigan, which has two Democratic U.S. Senators, yet Republicans have 9 as opposed to 5 Democratic U.S. Representatives, and control both chambers of the state legislature, once again thanks to gerrymandering.

Unfortunately, this method of drawing up voting districts is perfectly legal and dates back to Elbridge Gerry, who as governor of Massachusetts in 1812 signed legislation that redistricted the state to favor the Democratic-Republican Party.  Thanks to the success of this initial effort the name stuck, and some voting districts can carry more weight than others, regardless of the number of voters.

Urban areas have suffered the most through gerrymandering, as their votes count less than rural and suburban votes in many state elections.  This was true throughout the Midwest.  Democratic US Representative candidates won the majority of the Pennsylvania vote in 2012 but thanks to the breakdown of districts, the Republicans retained 13 out of 18 seats in the House of Representatives.  Pennsylvania Republicans similarly retained controlled of the state legislature, allowing them to perpetuate this voting imbalance.

Even in Southern states like North Carolina, Democrats suffered a similar fate.  This despite notorious voter ID laws and other measures specifically aimed at disenfranchising a significant portion of the voters.  Nevertheless, Republicans retained commanding control of the state legislature, and maintained their edge 9-5 over Democrats in the US House of Representatives.

Astonishingly, all this redistricting took place in the span of one election cycle.  Republicans rode to a sweeping electoral victory in 2010 and immediately set to insure they would hold the majority in these Midwest states and maintain control of the South indefinitely.  Texas Republican Blake Farenthold barely won the 27th district over longtime representative Solomon Ortiz in 2010, but after the district was remapped Farenthold easily won re-election in 2012.

One had hoped that the Madison protests would inspire similar shows of resistance across the country, but alas it seems many folks just simply accepted defeat.  Lacking a clear message, Democrats have been unable to inspire voters to the polls.  Primaries have had historic low voter turn out in some states, and there seems little to indicate the November elections will be any better.


  1. Republicans may be the majority in political offices in most places but it is second best here in Minnesota. We have the lowest unemployment and the highest standard of living in any metropolitan area in the USA because Democrats are in control of the governorship, both houses of the legislature, and both mayor's offices.

    As Harry S Truman said, ''if you want to live like a Republican, vote Democrat". The great example of Minnesota is living proof of that truth. Now it's time for everybody to wake up and see that truth for what it is.

  2. Minnesota managed to survive the redistricting efforts, as it too went Republican in 2010. It seems Minnesotans quickly realized their mistake. Also Bachmann is from the Land of Lakes, although she barely survived the last election and is apparently calling it quits.