State gains could boost GOP for years - How? Congressional redistricting

Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) - Thursday, November 4, 2010
Author: Michael Cooper New York Times News Service
The battle for the nation's statehouses drew far less attention this year than the fight for Congress, but the Republican surge at the state level could have a longer-lasting effect than the one in Washington. 

Their victories Tuesday, giving Republicans a majority of the nation's governorships and legislative chambers, came at a politically advantageous moment. Republicans will now have the upper hand next year just as states begin the once-a-decade process of drawing up new congression al districts, when both parties traditionally try to gain an electoral edge through gerrymandering and other forms of creative cartography. 

Democrats, who had been making steady gains at the state level for years, were routed. Republicans were elected governor Tuesday in at least 11 states that were formerly held by Democrats, including key states like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania that are expected to lose seats in Congress when the new census figures are released. 

"Republicans picked a good year to have a dramatic win," said Tim Storey, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures who studies redistricting. 

By his tally, Tuesday's election results will give Republicans the power to unilaterally draw 190 congressional seats, while Democrats can hope to unilaterally draw up to 70 at most, if they manage to win several undecided races. 

(The rest of the districts, he said, would be drawn by divided state governments or appointed commissions.) 

Redistricting, it is commonly said, allows elected officials to choose their voters, instead of the other way around. The once-a-decade process was originally designed to protect the one-person, one-vote rule by making sure congressional districts kept pace with population changes reported by the census. 

The biggest effect will be in states that lose or gain congressional seats to reflect population losses and gains. After Tuesday's votes, Republicans will control the governorships and both legislative houses in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan - which are all expected to lose seats. 

That means Republicans there will get to decide whose districts are erased, or, as Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University who studies redistricting, put it, "Who doesn't get a chair when everyone has to sit down at the end of the song?"