Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Redistricting the Montana legislature -- surprise... Democrats get much of what they want

There are some mixed messages in Mike Dennison's recent article on legislative redistricting. The headline reads that the GOP is "looking hard to beat." Yet that hardly describes the reality as outlined in the article itself.

It seems that what happened in the redistricting process is that the rural-urban divide favored by Republicans (and common sense) prevailed, so rural districts will not be diluted by urban precincts that tend to be more Democratic. On the other hand, it appears that districts within the cities themselves were drawn according to the principles of Democratic gerrymandering expert Joe Lamson. Lamson believes that districts should be drawn in such a way that give Democrats the best chance of winning control of the state legislature. At least he's honest about it.

What this means is that in a city like Billings, Democratic leaning precincts will be mixed in with Republican leaning precincts to create districts in such a way as to give Democrats the most winnable districts. Whether a legislator (of either party) who narrowly wins such districts can do a good job of representing all of his constituents is quite another question.

The Democrats also appeared to have won significant victories in the creation of Senate districts, since Dennison says that Republicans will have "42-47 relatively safe seats in the House, and another six or seven that clearly lean Republican... (while) Democrats can probably count on 32-39 House seats as safe, and another seven that lean Democratic." In the Senate, however, Republicans will have 21 safe seats, while Democrats have 19 or 20 safe seats. Translation: Senate districts have been created by often pairing Democratic House districts with Republican house districts in a way that gives Democrats an edge.

Republican member of the redistricting commission Jon Bennion has this to say:

“As the plan stands now, Republicans would certainly lose seats in the House, not because of their ideas or their candidates, but simply because of lines that were drawn based on political data and election results..."

While the gerrymandering was not as bold and in-your-face as it was 10 years ago, it appears that Democrats have again made significant gains with the help of the redistricting commission. The losers will again be those Montanans who find themselves thrown into districts where the lines were drawn to give Democrats a shot at winning, rather than according to principles of similar constituent interests.

The silver lining? Montana Republicans were dealt about as bad a hand in the last redistricting as possible -- and yet, in all but the 2004 election, they managed, through dint of sheer effort, to win control of one or both legislative bodies. Even the 2004 election was stolen from them by the Montana Supreme Court. It wasn't enough that the Supreme Court handed the redistricting commission to the Democratic Party -- they also had to step in and hand a decisive contested seat to the Democrats by fiat, under the most specious of reasoning.

In short, while Republicans have again been dealt an unfair hand in the current redistricting, they will have their destiny in their own hands. If they recruit strong candidates who work hard and smart -- both in campaigning and in serving their constituents in Helena, Republicans should be able to control the legislature more often than not. If Republicans act with (ahem) indiscretion in Helena and run candidates who are looney, lazy, or both, then Democratic governor Steve Bullock may soon have a Democratic legislature with whom he can partner to run the state into the ground...

No comments: