Gerrymandering: A litmus test for honesty

Republicans like to talk about honesty; frequently that means being brash and politically incorrect. It’s incumbent for Democrats to see honesty as telling the truth.

There are lies and then there are evasions. No one is better at that than Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s “explainer-in-chief.” She can go hand-to-hand with Rachel Maddow for the better part of an hour and rarely say anything that is true, but her audience (the Trump audience) either doesn’t know that or doesn’t care.

I was quite disappointed by what I heard from a Democrat on Maddow’s show on Thursday, December 29. The guest for the segment was Kelly Ward, and the substitute host was Ari Melber.

Ms. Ward had just been tapped by Democrats and Barack Obama to become the point person in the Democrats’ effort to counter the inevitable gerrymandering of Congressional and state legislative districts that Republicans will try to do following the 2020 census. Gerrymandering is the process of manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class. Both parties have engaged in it through the years, but in recent times, no one has been as effective as the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party in drawing districts in 2012 following the 2010 census.

An example of a gerrymandered district is Florida’s 5th Congressional District, shown below. Districts are supposed to be “compact and contiguous,” meaning that they should come as close as possible to resembling a rectangle with near-equal sides as possible. Obviously Florida’s 5th does not do that.

Before anyone gets too bent out of shape by what the Republicans have done, they should first recognize that this is a district that was created with the collaboration of Democrats. In fact, it is actually a district that has been represented by a Democrat, Congresswoman Corinne Brown. It is one of those “minority majority” districts that Republicans and Democrats alike have favored in recent years. As originally constructed, it wound from African-American neighborhoods to Jacksonville to other African-American neighborhoods in Orlando.

Democrats liked the “sure seat,” and Republicans liked that Democratic voters were concentrated in single districts, making most adjacent districts clear for Republicans. However, Democrats objected, and on July 11, 2014, Florida Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that this district, along with the neighboring District 10, had been drawn to favor the Republican party by packing black Democratic voters into District 5. On August 1, Judge Lewis gave Florida’s state legislature an Aug. 15 deadline to submit new congressional maps for those two districts.

As it turns out, with the boundaries redrawn for the 2016, the 5th is still represented by an African-American, albeit Al Lawson rather than Corinne Brown.

Ward, the woman tasked with opposing future Republican gerrymandering, was asked by Melber:

Yet, the flip side, which people who are in the Democratic party sometimes talk about, and certainly a lot of progressive reformers talk about it, just adding more gerrymandering isn’t necessarily good. Some Democrats have caught on to that. Take a look at, for example, the Florida fifth district. This is Corrine Brown, drawn obviously in a weird way. That is not contiguous. It doesn’t look like a community. It doesn’t look like something you’d draw for any normal reason and, yet, the Democrat there, Representative Brown, fought to keep it that way after the Republicans redrew it that way. Are you also going to be defending those kind of maps?

Ward responded:

Our goal is to make sure that the process is fair, that Democrats have a seat at the table, and that Democrats can compete on a fair playing field. We have not seen that because of the Republican gerrymandering. Florida is a perfect example of this. The Florida voters passed an initiative giving the legislature boundaries for drawing the maps, and the Republican legislators completely ignored those regulations put on them by the voters and passed what was then later determined to be an illegal map.

In fact, four of the nine seats that Democrats picked up in the House in 2016 were because of redistricting lawsuits that overturned illegal Republican maps, including in Florida. We know that when that happens, Democrats do better. Democrats generally pick up more seats. When the process is more fair, Democrats do better. That is really our goal and that’s what we’ll stay focused on.

Here is video. Kelly Ward does not come on screen until about the half-way point of the clip.

What’s the problem? The problem is that Ward never criticized Florida’s 5th as it had been drawn for Corinne Brown’s convenience. When Melber asked her, “Are you also going to be defending those kind of maps?” she walked around it, in a Kellyanne Conway fashion.

Progressive Democrats need to have honest answers to today’s problems. We cannot utilize the Republican tactic of diversion if we are to be believed. It will not take long into the Trump presidency for more and more Americans to know that they have been swindled. Democrats need to do three things: (1) provide the public with honest answers, (2) be true to a progressive agenda, and (3) reach out to those voters who were so disaffected from the system that they chose Trump in 2016. Let’s hope that Ward gets that message.