July 2, 2019
In the past few days, I’ve read more than a few lines on a map as I rode my motorcycle to the edge of what was once the Republic of Texas— to Taos, the Enchanted Circle and other beautiful spots in New Mexico.
Not having those mountains in Texas is some evidence that map drawing can have consequences.
During those rides through New Mexico, I got to thinking about the state of our representative government (yeah, I like to keep things light). Distrust in our electoral systems and institutions is growing. Increased partisanship is undoubtedly one cause, but that division has been deepened by one specific cause: election maps.
Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision threatens to exacerbate this distrust. In a single opinion, Chief Justice Roberts removed courts from the entire conversation about how far partisans can go to rig the maps in their favor. This not only gives a green light for partisan gerrymandering, but it also makes racial gerrymandering claims more difficult to prove, which is particularly troubling here. In an ongoing redistricting case, the district court found that in every decade since the passage of the Voting Rights Act “Texas has passed one or more redistricting plans after the census that have been declared either unconstitutional or violations of the (Voting Rights Act).“
Gerrymandering of any kind allows those with power to redraw the game board in their favor by silencing the voice of the voters with whom they disagree. It’s like having a 100-meter dash but setting your own starting line meters ahead. In the 2018 Texas Congressional races, Democrats won 47% of the vote but only won seats in about 36% of the districts (13 of 36). Defending the last set of maps, Texas took the position that they were okay because the mapmakers weren’t trying to gerrymander to discriminate based on race, they were only trying to gerrymander to discriminate against Democrats.
And this isn’t just a problem in Texas and for Texas Democrats. It’s not a one-sided partisan issue as some claim. Similar gaps benefit Democrats in New York and California. Two wrongs don’t make a right. You either believe the voters should have a fair chance to pick their leaders or you don’t, regardless of your party.
Gerrymandering hurts all of us because it conflicts with some of our most fundamental, democratic values like government of the people, by the people, for the people. And of course it only increases the inability to get things done because of partisanship. Those running seek out the most partisan position, refuse to work with others, reject consensus or any moderate thought, because when you’re in a very safe district of either party, you know it’s only the primary voters — those who are the most partisan — who will decide your fate. The battle of ideas is over before it begins.
Now’s the Time
Every elected official owes it to Texans to ensure the integrity of the election process. That means fair maps and fair election procedures. I’m astounded by how hard we make it for people to vote in Texas. It’s typically done in the name of election integrity, but really — really — it’s done to skew the system.
I’m also amazed at the lack of shame so many have when over and over the courts said our redistricting maps or our voter requirement laws violated the Constitution. Think about that. The courts in the last decade have found Texas election maps and requirements to vote were unconstitutional. And officials sworn to uphold that Constitution looked the other way so long as they felt an electoral benefit. The ends justified the means and they knew, in part because of redistricting, they couldn’t be challenged.
If there’s a silver lining to all of this, perhaps it’s that we now know our path forward. If voters want to regain control and select their representatives instead of allowing their representatives to select them, voters have to demand a change.
The winners of our next election will draw the Texas House, Texas Senate, State Board of Education, and Congressional maps for the next decade. Every voter needs to demand fair maps now because, once elected, there will be little in the way of laws and courts to keep those in control of the Capitol honest when maps are drawn in 2021.
Now is also the time to pay attention and act because both legislative chambers have appointed their redistricting committees. These committees will soon travel the state to hear from you. I appreciate Lieutenant Governor Patrick appointing me to the Senate’s Redistricting Committee because this issue is fundamental and will affect all policymaking for the decade to come.
The people must demand legislative change.
Get Ready for Bruce