Friday, April 21, 2017

When Money Just Isn't Enough

The Ironic Cherry reads...

The True Story Behind the
Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy
by David Daley

I continue to wait for Democrats to create a catchy (memorable) phrase for "emoluments clause."  You know, like republicans renamed the "estate tax" the unforgettable and terrifying "death tax."  Something that would put Trump's obscene conflicts of interest front and center in the mind of the American people.

David Daley realized that the most important threat to democracy today is the redistricting that happened in 2010.  But not even its more apt term, "gerrymandering" is enough to cause us to bolt upright from a sound political sleep.  That's why he titled his book "Ratfucked."  He defines it as "a dirty deed done dirt cheap" and places it originally, and not surprisingly, in the Nixon White House, where the term was used to describe operatives in Nixon's inner circle.

The plot to steal America once and for all for the republican party began with the gift by the Supreme Court of Citizens United.  One clever and far-sighted republican realized that it really wouldn't take a lot of money in a lot of races to turn the tide; a study of the states where legislatures would control the redistricting after the 2010 census showed which states would gain or lose seats after reapportionment and would then be redrawing maps from scratch.  A fairly modest amount of money (by today's standards) poured into a few critical state races.  Sleepy Dems would wake up to find blue and purple states suddenly controlled by republicans, states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina.  (Remember when NC used to be the smarter of the Carolinas?)

The gerrymander goes way back, but these days it is done with computer programs and the enormous amounts of personal data collected on each of us resulting in stunningly bizarre district maps.  With chapters about several of the more fascinating and dysfunctional gerrymanders, he describes the process and the result in a way that makes this a true page-turner.  For one instance, he takes us into Michigan's District 14:

He takes a day to drive the entire 170 miles of the border, in order to "understand those juts, notches and tangrams and to see what, if anything, is different from one side of the street to the other."

What he finds is a surgical precision wherein poor, mostly African American communities are forced into the district, including boarded up houses and a completely closed national park.  On the other side, even right across the street, are the affluent neighborhoods.  This is part of his description:

"The mapmaker draws his first joke farther down Michigan Avenue.  Tiger Stadium used to sit at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull; the site is now a park.  It would have been in the 14th.  The baseball team's new home, Comerica Park, is just a mile away, as is Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play.  Both are outside the lines.  This may be the mapmaker's favorite dig:  time and again, whenever the 14th might include a local landmark -- Faygo soda's headquarters, the Detroit Zoo, a major General Motors plant -- it contorts itself in another direction.  There will be no easy campaign cash and no famous constituency for the member of Congress from the 14th."

What he describes as "the growth atop the snake's head" is on a street that cuts in and out across three districts.  Turns out that that strange growth at the top of the 14th is an actual dump.

There are two critical aspects to this national redistricting.  First, you want to pack a couple of districts in the state with minorities.  Which leads to races, as in my own District 6 in South Carolina, that resulted in 2016 in a victory for Jim Clyburn with over 70% of the vote.  I then lost the ability to vote against Mark Sanford in my former district, District 1.  Sanford won with a more modest 58.6 % of the vote.  Which is part two of this devious scheme.  Not only do you want to pack a few districts with Democrats, you want to spread a few out over primarily republican districts, so you can have more of those majority republican districts that will nonetheless be safe.

Here is the gerrymandered District 1:

Sadly, republicans have been able to use the part of the Voting Rights Act which mandated the opportunity for minorities "to elect representatives of their choice" to advance their own power grab.  In 1990 the then head of the Republican National Committee made a proposal to the Congressional Black Caucus.  It was an unholy alliance that gave African Americans more representation in Congress by packing a few districts so that republicans could spread their constituencies across more districts.  In retrospect, this turned out not to increase the representation of the black communities in Congress, merely to assure them a few seats.  And those districts continue to be poor and powerless, with failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, and polluted drinking water.

The result of all this trickery is mind blowing.  Democrats consistently receive more votes for congress, but republicans walk away with a crazy but untouchable majority in the House.

While Democrats are agonizing over how to reach Trump voters, even though Hillary got three million more votes (and how many more presidential elections are we going to lose before we figure out a way to get rid of the electoral college?), we really, really need to take a smart look at the process.  If you pack Democratic voters in a couple of districts, giving them 80% majorities, spread out the rest in majority republican districts with more modest but reliable majorities, it doesn't matter how many $3 donations, how much door-knocking, how relevant the message.

Some states are actually moving toward fixing this abomination, including our own state of South Carolina.  A bill sponsored by Dems Nikki Seltzer, Mia McLeod, and Mike Fanning proposes establishing an independent, bipartisan commission to redraw districts.  Unfortunately, those in power have no incentive to support such a bill.  But a recent Winthrop Poll shows that 63% of South Carolina voters support such a commission.  We need to raise the same ruckus over this issue as we have over the ACA and Trump's taxes, because it is the issue on which the future of our democracy depends.

I hate to say it, but this book is an entertaining way to become more informed, and more passionate, about redistricting.  The number crunching, the map-making, the incredible amount of information about each of us that has gone into this bastardization of the democratic process, isn't just important.  It is really a gripping story.  And it is too bad that in our pseudo genteel society the Dems haven't come up with a more attention grabbing word than "gerrymander."  Because what it really is, is ratfucking.

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