Sunday, February 03, 2013

Cheat to Win: The Republican Strategy to Stay in Power

 I've written a great deal on this blog about how changes in population demographics in America threaten to make it nearly impossible for the Republican party to win a national election. The GOP is losing the vote of everyone but old, allegedly heterosexual, angry, "Christian" white men. The party leadership is showing itself totally incompetent to govern. And it's not as if Republicans are going to try to broaden the party's appeal by moderating its views. Every since President Eisenhower left the White House, the Republican Party has moved in one direction: to the right, to the right, further to the right. Even after the drubbing the GOP took in the 2012 election, party leaders insist there's nothing wrong with their stand on the issues. So it looks like we may not see another Republican President for a long time. At least not until the Democrats nominate someone who's purely incapable of winning, a la Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis.

These facts are not lost on the current leadership of the Republican party. That's why, increasingly, they're coming up with strategies to rig the vote, manipulate the outcome of elections and de-fund their opponents so as to stay in power regardless of popular sentiment. And the funny thing is, they're not exactly trying to keep all this a secret. On the contrary, as we'll soon see, they're quite proud of themselves and not at all shy about their cheat-to-win strategy.

Their biggest accomplishment so far has been to gerrymander US House congressional districts in enough states to as to virtually guarantee winning a majority of the 435 seats every two years. The strategy of winning elections by manipulating district boundaries to create partisan advantage has been around for a long time. But the particularly obnoxious redistricting fight in Texas ten years ago has established a very ugly model that Republicans have been using ever since. The redistricting of Congressional seats is traditionally done once every ten years, soon after the national census. In the 2000 election, Texas elected 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans to the US House, and did so again two years later after the decennial redistricting. However, in the 2002 election the Republicans also gained control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since the 19th century. The newly elected Republican legislature then engaged in an unprecedented mid-decade redistricting plan.  After a protracted partisan struggle, the legislature enacted a new congressional districting map, as a result of which Republicans won 21 seats to the Democrats' 11 in the 2004 election. The plan was personally shepherded through the Texas legislature by US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Texas Senator John Cornyn was quick to congratulate DeLay and to brag about the success of the redistricting plan, saying, "Everybody who knows Tom knows that he's a fighter and a competitor, and he saw an opportunity to help the Republicans stay in power in Washington." Just two years later, DeLay was forced to resign from Congress when indicted for felony money laundering charges; charges of which he was convicted in 2011.

Republicans quickly acted to apply the Texas strategy to the rest of the country. I've been meaning to write a detailed analysis of just how effective state-by-state gerrymandering has been in enabling the Republicans to maintain control of the House. Now I don't have to. The Republican party's State Leadership Committee is quite proud of the way in which they manipulated the results of the 2012 House election, and has written an analysis for me. Boasting about the success of their "REDMAP" plan, the Committee reports (also linked here):

"As the 2010 Census approached, the RSLC began planning for the subsequent election cycle, formulating a strategy to keep or win Republican control of state legislatures with the largest impact on congressional redistricting as a result of reapportionment."

"The rationale was straightforward:  Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn.  Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade."

"After REDMAP’s success on Election Day 2010, Republicans held majorities in 10 of the 15 states that gained or lost U.S. House seats and where the legislature played a role in redrawing the state legislative and congressional district map.  In the 70 congressional districts that were labeled by National Public Radio as “competitive” in 2010, Republicans controlled the redrawing of at least 47 of those districts; Democrats were responsible for 15, and a non-partisan process determined eight."

"REDMAP’s effect on the 2012 election is plain when analyzing the results: Pennsylvanians cast 83,000 more votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates than their Republican opponents, but elected a 13-5 Republican majority to represent them in Washington; Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress.  Nationwide, Republicans won 54 percent of the U.S. House seats, along with 58 of 99 state legislative chambers, while winning only 8 of 33 U.S. Senate races and carrying only 47.8 percent of the national presidential vote."

The Democrats can't do anything to fix the gerrymandering of the House unless they can win control of the state governments that enabled it. And that isn't very likely. Why? Because those states don't have Republican majorities just because the GOP did well in the 2010 election. They've also turned them into virtual dictatorships by gerrymandering legislative seats at the state level as well.

Aaron Baker of the Washington Post notes just how well Republicans did at the state level even in states that President Obama carried in 2012, thanks to earlier efforts to carefully draw legislative districts in such a way as to maximize the number the number of Republicans elected:

"In Ohio, for instance, Republicans actually expanded their state House and state Senate majorities in 2012, to 60-39 in the House and 23-10 in the Senate, even as Obama carried the state by three points. For Democrats to have won the House, the statewide vote would have needed to shift more than four points toward Democrats (judging by the median race, which Republicans won 54.18 percent to 45.82 percent). Translating that shift to the presidential race, it would have meant that Obama needed to carry the state 55 percent to 43 percent, rather than 51 percent to 48 percent."

"Another good example is the Virginia House. Republicans retained a 67-31 edge there, despite Obama having carried the state by four points. A look at past election results suggests that the 2012 election would have had to shift about five points toward Democrats for them to have taken the chamber. That means Obama’s margin would have needed to be 56 percent to 42 percent."

Gerrymandering legislative districts at both the state and congressional levels has been so successful for Republicans, it's become a single-minded obsession, with state legislators ready to pounce on any opportunity to carve up the map and guarantee themselves just one more seat.

Currently, control of  Virginia's state Senate is divided evenly, with Democrats and Republicans controlling 20 seats each. Last month, one Democrat left town to attend President Obama's inauguration, giving Republicans a 20 to 19 vote majority, at least for one day. Guess what?

"Without notice Monday, Senate Republicans took up a bill that had called for minor “technical adjustments” to House district lines and amended it on the floor so that it changed lines for all 40 Senate seats. The bill created a new majority-black district but also made at least eight other districts more heavily Republican."

But wait, there's more. What good is rigging the outcome of state and congressional elections, if you can't also cheat your way into the biggest prize of all: the Presidency? Republicans are also working on a state-by-state campaign to award the electoral votes in Presidential elections by congressional district, rather than winner take all. If successful, this plan would result in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin likely giving most of their electoral votes to the Republican candidate, even if Democratic Presidential nominees were to continue to win those states. Red states, would, of course, continue to give all their electoral votes to the Republican nominee. If just a few swing states had already had this plan in effect in 2012, Mitt Romney would have become President despite losing the national election.

All of the manipulation described above still represents on a fraction of what Republicans are doing to steal elections. Other strategies include:

1. De-fund Unions
Old joke: A corporate executive, a union representative and a worker are sitting at a table with a chocolate cake on it. The executive cuts the cake into 8 slices and takes 7 for himself. He then turns to the worker and says, "Watch out for that union guy, he'll try to steal your share of the cake."

In January of 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. This of course has been a giant gift to Republicans, who as a result of the ruling have seen a veritable tidal wave of money pour into their coffers from corporations and billionaires. In 2010, the first election after the Citizens United Decision, the top four fundraising groups, all of whom were created to give money to Republicans, contributed $97.7 million. In distant fifth place was the Service Employees International Union, which raised $15.7 million for Democrats. Similar to the old joke above, Republicans look at this situation and think, "We've got to stop these union contributions to elections."

Here's an example. In 2011, new Republican Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker went to a great deal of trouble to destroy the union representing state employees. Walker claimed that busting the union would save the state money, but was ultimately forced to admit that it did not. So what's the scheme? Republican State Senate Majority Leader did everyone the courtesy of explaining the real goals of the plan in plain language, "If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin."

2. The Return of Jim Crow: The New Voter ID Laws
Pennsylvania is one of a number of Republican-controlled states to recent pass a stringent new voter ID law, requiring that voters present a photo ID at the polling place. Fortunately, the Pennsylvania law was blocked, at least temporarily, by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, citing likely disqualification of eligible voters as the reason. Theoretically, the new law is in place to prevent voter fraud. Of course the state has already formally acknowledged that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Democrats contend the voter ID law is motivated by Republican efforts to suppress the traditionally Democratic minority vote.  And, once again, Republicans aren't very shy about admitting their real motivations. According to Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, the Voter ID law would, "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

3. Just Go Right Ahead and Deliberately Sabotage the Election
Ohio and Florida are Republican-controlled states whose Presidential votes are key to the national election. In 2012, both of these states saw lines at polling places in urban areas so long that voters could not cast a ballot unless they were prepared to stand in line all day. According to Scott Tranter, a consultant to the Romney campaign, "A lot of us are campaign officials -- or campaign professionals -- and we want to do everything we can to help our side. Sometimes we think that's voter ID, sometimes we think that's longer lines -- whatever it may be."

The greatest threat to democracy in this country isn't from terrorism. It's the fact that the Republican party doesn't believe in holding free and fair elections.