Redistricting Is Back!

The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 17

April 26, 2021

This week:

  • Redistricting season is about to begin
  • Three biggest Blue states expected to lose seats
  • Caitlyn Jenner is running for governor of California

Outlook: State legislatures and cartography junkies are on pins and needles awaiting the initial reapportionment numbers from the Census this week. Depending on how they come out, Republicans stand a very strong chance of retaking the House in the 2022 midterm election. 

The detailed data will come later. What’s coming now are the top-line numbers about which states will gain and which states will lose seats.

The last decade — even before COVID — saw a massive drain of population from states such as Illinois, California, and New York. These states’ grim fiscal outlook (especially in Illinois), business-hostile regulatory climates, high taxes and (in two of the three) bad weather all discourage residents from sticking around. 

The expectation is that these big three states will all lose seats. California, whose middle-income population is taxed as heavily as millionaires are in a majority of U.S. states, is expected to lose a seat for the first time since statehood. New York will lose at least one — it is in a narrow contest with Alabama to avoid losing an additional seat. Democrats are expected to bypass their own much-touted redistricting reform. Still, they will probably find themselves forced, with congressional districts, at least, to collapse one seat of an incumbent in each party in order to maintain their dominance.

Winners: The biggest beneficiaries should be Texas (expected to gain three seats) and Florida (expected to gain two). These two states have no income tax and are thus ideal places for retirees to draw on their 401(k) plans. They are also business-friendly states, as Elon Musk’s recent decision to relocate would indicate. 

In both cases, solid Republican control of these two states’ legislatures guarantees that Republicans will do well enough in redistricting (in spite of new redistricting rules in Florida that purport to ban partisan gerrymandering). In Florida, they are sure to gain at least one seat and possibly two that Democrats might have held elsewhere in another state. In Texas, they should do better than that, and in the process shore up some of their shakier incumbents. Given that Democrats’ judicial abuse of the old map is unlikely to be repeated in the current Fifth Circuit and with the Supreme Court’s current composition, Texas Republicans may find themselves in an unusually strong position.

Other possible gainers where Republicans control the process include Montana and North Carolina. Democrats will control the process of adding seats in Colorado and Oregon. In all f those cases, it will not necessarily be easy to create maps that favor the party in control more heavily than the current maps do. 

Arizona’s districts are drawn by a supposedly non-partisan commission, but Democrats had such great success in gaming that commission last decade that a strong Republican effort to undo their handiwork could easily flip the script. 

Losers: Other states likely to lose one seat apiece include Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Rhode Island. Only Republicans represent West Virginia and only Democrats represent Rhode Island, so those two will be a wash. In Michigan, legislative Republicans will control the process. They may try to use Detroit’s continued population loss to swap as many suburban Democratic voters inward as possible and to create more competitive or even Republican seats in the northern suburbs. 

Minnesota and Ohio both promise to be even more interesting. In Minnesota, the two parties each control a house of the state legislature. In Ohio, Republicans control everything, but the picture is always complex. Last decade, knowing they were about to lose a seat, they wisely carved out a Democratic district for the growing city of Columbus, so as to prevent Democratic gains in the area throughout the decade. This time, they seem likely to obliterate Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan’s increasingly Republican-leaning Youngstown-area district, dividing its voters among existing Republican-friendly seats.  

Bear in mind that redistricting provides only a slight advantage, and usually only for one or two cycles at most. On aggregate, the influence of redistricting in determining House control has been vastly overrated. Most “safe” congressional seats are such due to geography, not partisan chicanery. One would have to engage in horrific “gerrymandering,” for example, in order to create “fair” districts in northern Texas. 

House: Meanwhile, Republicans seeking to assemble an actual case for the voters to support them — as opposed to just choosing the right voters — would do well to look at last week’s tabling of a resolution censuring Rep. Maxine Waters. Waters, whose rhetoric and conspiracy-theorizing have long been way out of hand, went too far by calling for violence in the event that the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin ended with an acquittal.

A Republican effort to censure her on the House floor using a privileged resolution was turned back along party lines. A party arrogant enough to behave in such a fashion after making such a big deal of the Jan. 6 disturbance in the Capitol is a party that could well lose the House next fall.

Governor 2021

California: Caitlyn Jenner, the former male Olympic athlete whose legal name-change from “Bruce” and public gender-identity announcement a few years ago marked a significant cultural event, has filed to run for governor of California in the coming recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom

Jenner has assembled an extremely competent, experienced, and surely expensive campaign team, to the point that this definitely cannot be written off as some kind of stunt. If nothing else, this is very likely to increase interest in the recall election. To the extent that it does, this move could possibly help the cause of removing Newsom.

Governor 2022

Maine: The Pine Tree state, governed by Democrats since the 2018 election, has nonetheless progressed in a Republican direction in the Trump era. It will therefore be interesting to see what happens if former two-term Gov. Paul LePage indeed chooses to run again, as he is hinting he might. The state’s new ranked-choice voting system could play a role in frustrating LePage’s ambition for a comeback, but if the nation’s oldest state by population continues its gradual realignment, this system could eventually start working to Republicans’ advantage instead of Democrats’.

Previous articleBurning The Flag
Next articleThe Media Mulcher