One of the many problems exacerbated by the loss of local journalism is the increasing nationalization of American politics. Those who follow political news are focused almost exclusively on Washington, and that focus has only intensified since 2016. If there is one thing Donald Trump is good at (and it is the only thing), it is sucking the air out of the newsroom. He’s like the wreck by the side of the road that you can’t help rubbernecking.
But we ignore state politics at our peril.
Donald Trump occupies the Oval Office because the Republican Party has been punching above its weight for a number of years. The GOP has been able to win elections not because it can claim majority status, but because it has been able to game the system at the state level, primarily through gerrymandering and voter suppression.
And these efforts have been aided and abetted by ALEC.
ALEC–the American Legislative Exchange Council–is a powerful (and secretive) conservative organization. It is best known for preparing “model” bills favorable to its corporate members, bills that more often than not are introduced–unaltered– by conservative state legislators. ALEC has been incredibly successful in getting these measure passed, and the organization has shaped legislation in policy areas ranging from health care (undercutting the Affordable Care Act) to criminal justice (promoting private prisons). It has worked to lower taxes, eliminate environmental regulations, quash unions, and protect corporations from lawsuits, and it depends upon Republicans to achieve its aims.
In the early August heat, nearly 200 Republican lawmakers gathered in an Austin, Texas, hotel to learn about what one panelist described as a “political adult bloodsport.” The matter at hand — gerrymandering — could lock in Republican power in the states for another decade if successfully carried out again in 2021.
This meeting was evidently a bit less secretive than usual, since reporters were able to attend the sessions on gerrymandering. One was even able to record it.
This unprecedented level of reporting on the panel uncovered the tactics conservatives plan to employ as they seek to maintain the Republican hold on state legislatures across the country in the crucial redistricting wars to come….
The conservative experts gave attendees a range of tips on how to approach gerrymandering, from legislative actions to legal preparedness. The panelists scoffed at the idea of appointing independent commissions in states to draw districts, a solution to partisan gerrymandering gaining traction in some states, instead urging state lawmakers to secure as much control over the process as possible. One panelist suggested Republican lawmakers work with black and Latino lawmakers to pack minority voters into districts, and another urged them to exclude noncitizens from the population numbers used to determine districts, a move that would dramatically redistribute power away from blue areas. Yet, ALEC also warned state lawmakers to be careful — to avoid using the word “gerrymander” and drawing lines too heavily based on race.
As the linked article points out, other conservative organizations may be focused on the federal government, but ALEC understands that the key to power is at the state level– and that the key to maintaining that power is redistricting.
ALEC’s ultimate goal is to have more influence on state lawmakers than the lawmakers’ voters.
They want people to listen to them and not their voters, and the way they do that is by creating these gerrymandered districts so legislators don’t have to address the concerns of their district.
Gerrymandering does more than skew lawmaking at the state level, of course–it results in unrepresentative, “safe” Congressional districts that send disproportionate numbers of Republicans to Congress. Democrats win more votes; Republicans win more seats.In House races in 2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans, but Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats than the Democrats. Some of this is due to systemic issues, but much of it is due to gerrymandering.
After the last census, Republicans engaged in a national gerrymandering campaign that was so effective, it put Democrats at a disadvantage for a decade.
That disadvantage gave us the Tea Party and lots of laws written by ALEC .