Slate releases leaked audio of Republican gerrymandering strategies

Republican officials are learning a few things about strategizing when it comes to entrenching themselves in political power, and they recently shared their thoughts on redistricting, a “political adult blood sport,” at a conference in Texas, according to an article published this week by Dave Daley.

Daley, who wrote Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count, obtained a leaked audio recording of a panel from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2019 annual meeting in Austin, Texas. The closed-door panel called “How to Survive Redistricting,” was moderated by influential Republican lawyer Cleta Mitchell, according to the article in Slate.

Daley described the panel’s four experts—Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, North Carolina election lawyer Thomas Farr, former Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, and Texas state Rep. Phil King—as architects and defenders of some of the most notorious gerrymanders and voter suppression plans of this decade.

Farr, who was unsuccessfully nominated by President Donald Trump to the federal judiciary in eastern North Carolina, recently defended the partisan gerrymanders in the 2017 legislative maps during the Common Cause v. Lewis trial.

Daley wrote that during the panel, legislators were advised to treat redistricting as “political adult blood sport,” trash potential evidence before it can be discovered through litigation, avoid the word gerrymander, and make deals with black and Latino legislators that guarantee them easy reelections by packing as many minority voters as possible into their districts, thereby making the rest of the map whiter and more conservative.

Panelists offered complicated technical advice, such as adding a legal provision that would allow a legislature to defend its maps in court even if the state attorney general refuses. And then there was less-technical advice, like being sure to put “sharp” legislators on redistricting committees because they’ll spend a lot of time explaining the maps in court.

“You are going to be sued. Let’s start with that,” Mitchell told a packed room at the ALEC gathering, attended by more than 1,400 people, including Trump administration officials and top conservative lawmakers, thinkers, donors, and activists. Mitchell made light of ALEC’s reputation as a conveyor belt for cookie-cutter conservative legislation enacted by state after state. “Mindless state legislators, we’re just pouring in information and we’re indoctrinating you, pouring into your empty skulls!” she said, sarcastically. “We’re going to teach you how to gerrymander.”

And then she did. “Let us begin with the fact that, probably, your notes from this conference, and this workshop, will probably be part of a discovery demand,” Mitchell said on the recording, dropping the sarcasm. “My advice to you is: If you don’t want it turned over in discovery, you probably ought to get rid of it before you go home.”

Farr compared lawsuits against GOP redistricting plans to a cancer diagnosis. “You better get some chemotherapy,” he said, “because if you don’t, things aren’t going to turn out real well for you.” He also told legislators that they needed to think about any trial as a play that he would direct as the counsel, and to be sure that they created a script that an attorney could work with before a judge.

Westmoreland, the former Georgia congressman who co-chaired a Republican 2010 redistricting initiative called REDMAP, told a story about giving black Democrats in his state mapmaking software and encouraging them to draw their “perfect district,” knowing that districts filled with minority voters would make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican.

“We ended up being very successful with it,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland recalled inviting the members of the “black caucus” to his office, “off campus,” to create their “perfect map.” One incumbent, he said, “finally fell into the trap and came over there and drew his perfect district.” To show the redistricting plan benefited black Democrats too, he “immediately got the local paper down there” to run an article on that lawmaker’s perfect district. Westmoreland then included a district as close as possible to that overwhelmingly black and Democratic one in the state’s official map. The legislator, he said, voted against the map and soon lost his seat.

“I promise you it’ll be beneficial to you,” he told the ALEC attendees. “They still want to be reelected. They still want to have the best district they can have.”

Daley reports about the leaked audio in great detail and outlines the entire meeting. It’s not clear who attended the panel but several lawmakers and legislative staff members from North Carolina were at the ALEC annual meeting, according to Documented, which posted a list of attendees.

North Carolina officials listed in attendance includes Senators William Alexander, Chuck Edwards, Matthew Todd Johnson and Vickie Sawyer; Representatives Destin Hall, Kyle Hall, Chris Humphrey, Steve Jarvis, Brendan Jones and Jason Saine. Policy Advisor Mark Coggins, Blue Cross Blue Shield Vice President Robert Fleming and State Treasurer Dale Folwell were also at the conference.

Read Daley’s full report about the panel and hear the leaked audio here.

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