McConnell rebukes RNC for saying Jan. 6 attack was ‘legitimate political discourse’

Veteran journalist: Voters the real losers as U.S. gerrymandering wars grow ever more intense

WASHINGTON – Partisan gerrymandering has run so wild and rampant since the 2020 census that, hard to believe, the next Congress promises to be even more sharply polarized and gridlocked than the current Congress, and there’s nothing voters can do about it – unless the courts step in boldly, right away.

The media focuses on which of the two major parties is winning but ignores the larger story that average voters are the real losers. We are all the collateral-damage victims of gerrymander wars. The competitiveness and fairness of U.S. elections are taking a terrible beating from the hyper-partisan warfare being waged in this election cycle by both major parties, especially by Republicans with their power monopolies in 23 states, dictating America’s election maps for the next decade.

Republican legislatures in eight key states – Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Florida  Iowa, Tennessee and New Hampshire,  – have been ramping up the maximum partisan advantage to win control of the House of Representatives in the 2022 mid-term elections. They have stacked congressional district maps to lock in eight additional Republican seats.  Plus, Republicans stand to gain one or two more seats in Arizona, where a bipartisan commission has created more GOP-friendly maps.

Democrats are counterattacking with their own political trifectas in Illinois, New York, Oregon and New Mexico where they have both the governor and the legislature in their control. They are working to ensure a gain of seven Democratic seats in those states by squeezing out Republican incumbents. Plus, Democrats stand a good chance to pick up another couple of seats in California, where redistricting has put Republicans under pressure and they are likely to slip back from their high tide of winning 11 House seats in 2020.

Most voters are shut out from determining the winner

But even if the two major parties play to a rough draw in their gerrymander wars, that doesn’t save the real losers – millions of rank-and-file voters whose votes will count for less. Competitive districts are shrinking. Each party is stacking the deck on its home turf. In red states like Texas and Florida, red legislatures are making red districts redder, and in blue states, like Illinois and New York, blue legislatures work to make blue districts bluer.

Where does that leave you, the voters? If you’re in the minority party or if you’re one of tens of millions of political independents who now outnumber Republicans and outnumber Democrats, gerrymander wars mean that you, the majority of American voters, are being deliberately shut out of getting to make the real choice of who gets elected to Congress.

Why? And How?

Democratic majority in the Illinois Legislature expands blue districts

Because in gerrymandered districts, the general election doesn’t actually determine the winner. Gerrymandering has already fixed the outcome. The majority party candidate wins. So getting the majority party nomination is the key to victory, and that means the party primary is the decisive election. Because independents are excluded from party primaries and not many moderates show up, turnout is extremely low, and party diehards dominate. So party primaries favor extremist candidates, both right and left.

When you combine partisan gerrymandering with extremist-friendly primaries, that produces an unworkable Congress, gridlocked from Day 1. The parties clash with their extreme wings able to stalemate issue after issue. Almost any legislative progress is a miracle. Each party blames the other for gridlock, and the pundits fault the president. But it’s the system that’s primarily to blame. Rampant gerrymandering is a formula for policy failure.

Like corporations, the major parties seek monopoly control

Slowly, average voters have awakened to the essential truth that truly competitive elections, district by district, are the lifeblood of our democracy. Competitive elections are what give us, We the People, our bedrock power, our crucial influence on the politicians who are supposed to serve us. When a congressional election is won by a thin margin, 52% to 48% or better yet, 50.2%-49.8%, every vote counts. Democracy is thriving. Competitive districts force politicians to listen to the voters, to pay attention to us, to what we say, and to try to deliver what we want. Read more

Op-ed: A prediction for North Carolina’s partisan gerrymandered maps

Punxsutawney Phil isn’t the only one making predictions today.

Veteran government and political watchdog Bob Hall has a must read op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal with his own prognostication about how the state Supreme Court will handle the latest redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature. (The future of those maps will be back in court today.)

Hall writes:

Please don’t be surprised in the coming weeks when the state Supreme Court votes to throw out the Republican-drawn election maps for North Carolina’s congressional and General Assembly districts. It will likely be a 4-3 vote, with critics blasting the Democratic majority on the court for being biased.

But here’s the truth: A bipartisan panel of judges, with a Republican majority, has already unanimously ruled that Republican legislators intentionally drew the district maps to undermine the power of Democratic voters.

The judges said the legislators’ plan is an “extreme outlier” that “subordinates the Adopted Criteria and traditional redistricting criteria for partisan advantage.”

Translation: Instead of following its own rules, the legislature chose an extreme set of maps that divided (“cracked and packed”) you and your neighbors into districts to guarantee that more Republican candidates would win. Voters get valued differently; Black voters, who mostly register as Democrats, will be especially harmed.

Despite expressing their “disdain,” the judges didn’t take the big step of ruling the maps unconstitutional. The high court will soon take that step.

Anita Earls

Given the evidence of “systematic” and “extreme” gerrymandering, I expect the Supreme Court will rule the maps violate our state constitution’s protection against measures that subvert free elections, treat voters unequally and entrench one party in power.

To prevent my prediction from coming true, Republican legislators recently filed a motion calling for Democratic Justice Anita Earls to remove (“recuse”) herself from the case. They claim she has “an insurmountable conflict” because her election was heavily financed by a national political committee with a partisan interest in redistricting.

Paul Newby

Ironically, Republican Justice Paul Newby faced — and rejected — a nearly identical charge in a previous redistricting case. A motion filed by Democrats and others called for his recusal because his election was heavily financed by a national political committee with a partisan interest in the case. Rather than step aside, Newby wrote a decision upholding the challenged maps.

Republican Justice Phil Berger Jr. also refused to recuse himself recently in a dispute, like this one, where a chief defendant is his father, state Senate leader Phil Berger Sr. Phil Jr. dismissed the obvious conflict of a son judging a case involving his daddy. That’s strange enough, but there’s a major campaign financing conflict for Justice Berger, too.

Phil Berger, Jr.

Phil Berger Sr. is often a featured guest at his son’s campaign fundraisers. In fact, the vast majority of money Phil Jr. has raised for his judicial elections has come from the Republican Party and donors tied to political appointees and lobbyists who seek favorable treatment from Phil Sr., the Senate boss and most powerful Republican in North Carolina.

In response to a complaint I filed with the board of elections, Phil Jr. had to amend his campaign reports to reveal fundraising events paid for by political appointees and a fundraiser with Phil Sr. at a lobbyist’s home. How can the son impartially rule in a redistricting case involving the political fate of his major benefactor?

It seems hypocritical for Phil Sr. and others to tell Justice Anita Earls to recuse herself when Justices Newby and Phil Jr. have not. As a distinguished Black woman attorney with extensive expertise in racial and partisan gerrymandering, Justice Earls will likely play a key role in how the court rules in this case. That’s the real reason GOP legislators want her removed.

Partisan strife will continue, but please remember that Republican and Democratic judges agree that the district maps are extreme and unfair. They diminish your vote and disrespect your voice. Our state constitution’s protection of equal rights and fair elections means they must be declared illegal.

Read more in the Winston-Salem Journal.

Those wanting to watch the hearing in action today can do so starting at 9:30 a.m. on the Supreme Court’s YouTube channel. Policy Watch’s Lynn Bonner previews the case here.

Trump’s fake electors: Here’s the full list

Veteran NC government watchdog Bob Hall: GOP hypocrisy and the current controversies at the state Supreme Court

Senate leader Phil Berger, Sr.

Justice Phil Berger, Jr.

Chief Justice Paul Newby

Republican legislators have filed a formal motion calling on North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, a Democrat, to recuse herself from the current redistricting litigation. Why? According to the Republicans’ press release, she “faces an insurmountable conflict” because her election was heavily supported by a donor with a partisan interest in the outcome of the redistricting case.

But the refusal of two Republican justices on the court to previously recuse themselves points up the rank hypocrisy of this attack on Earls.  The real reason GOP legislators want her removed is because, as a distinguished Black woman attorney with extensive expertise in racial and partisan gerrymandering, she will likely have an important role in formulating how the court majority rules in this case.

What’s more, two Republican justices have refused recusal in the past in response to similar, if not even more compelling, motions — current Chief Justice, Paul Newby, and Justice Phil Berger, Jr., the son of the leader of the state senate, Phil Berger Sr.

Consider the following:

** Nearly a decade ago, then Associate Justice Paul Newby refused to recuse himself during the legal challenges to the 2011 redistricting maps. The main rationale for requesting his recusal was that a major donor with a partisan interest in the case heavily bankrolled Newby’s election, i.e., a fact similar to the reason given by Republicans for demanding that Justice Earls recuse herself from the current redistricting case.

Briefly, the bulk of the money spent on Justice Newby’s 2012 reelection came from a super PAC whose biggest donor (about $1.2 million) was the National Republican Leadership Committee, the same GOP organization that had paid consultant and conservative redistricting guru Thomas Hofeller to draw the maps approved by Republican legislators in 2011. So the funder of the architect of the maps also funded the reelection of a state Supreme Court justice who then voted against the legal appeal challenging the maps in 2014. The North Carolina NAACP and others filed multiple motions for Newby’s recusal with the state Supreme Court in 2012 and 2013, but they were rejected.

** The major reason attorneys in a case challenging the actions of state lawmakers in placing a pair of constitutional amendments on the state ballot in 2018 sought Justice Berger’s recusal is because his father, state senate leader Phil Berger Sr., is a defendant in the case — a straightforward conflict for the son’s impartiality. In fact, the case largely deals with the legitimacy of his father’s power and position, i.e., whether Republicans legitimately won majority control of the General Assembly when it took the actions challenged in the lawsuit.

But there’s a major campaign financing conflict involving Justice Berger, too. The majority of the money he raised for his successful campaigns for North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2016 and for the state Supreme Court in 2020 depended heavily on his father’s position as leader of the state Senate and the most powerful Republican in North Carolina. How can the son rule impartially in a redistricting case that is all but certain to have a huge impact on the political fate of his major benefactor?

The campaign money Berger Jr. has raised going back to 2014 has largely come from the Republican Party and donors tied to political appointees and lobbyists who seek favorable treatment from Berger Sr., the Senate boss. Berger Sr. has even served as a featured speaker at Berger Jr.’s fundraisers. In fact, in a response to a complaint that I filed with the State Board of Elections, Berger Jr. had to amend his campaign reports to reveal two fundraising events that were paid for by political appointees and a third fundraiser at the home of a leading lobbyist – with Berger Sr. at each one.

The bottom line: If they truly believe what they’re saying, the Republican legislators who want Justice Earls removed from the redistricting case should first ask Justice Berger and Chief Justice Newby to recuse themselves.

Click here to see the recusal motion filed vis a vis Newby in 2012. The most relevant portions can be found on page 28.

Bob Hall is the retired executive director of the group Democracy North Carolina and a veteran government and politics watchdog.