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A national view on redistricting

The Atlantic has an interesting view of the redistricting process.

Old school redistricting

Every 10 years, after U.S. census workers have fanned out across the nation, a snowy-haired gentle­man by the name of Tom Hofeller takes up anew his quest to destroy Democrats. He packs his bag and his laptop with its special Maptitude software, kisses his wife of 46 years, pats his West Highland white terrier, Kara, and departs his home in Alexandria, Virginia, for a United States that he will help carve into a jigsaw of disunity.

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Hofeller maintains an office at the Republican National Committee on Capitol Hill, though he is now the RNC’s paid consultant rather than, as in years past, its official redistricting director. At 69, he is a professorial if somewhat impish fellow (in his early days, a California House speaker dubbed him “the kid with the shit-eating grin”) who is more than content not to be a household name. His after-hours life includes singing tenor in his church choir and reading multitudes of books that seldom have anything to do with politics. Hofeller’s earliest clients included Democrats, and today he describes himself as a moderate Republican. The adjective is irrelevant, however. His chosen field is, according to Georgia Congressman and House Republican redistricting vice chair Lynn Westmoreland, “the nastiest form of politics that there is”: Tom Hofeller’s objective is to design wombs for his team and tombs for the other guys.

And so his cyclical travels take him mainly to states where the Republicans are likely to be drawing the new maps. (In most states, an appointed committee consisting of legislators from the majority party produces the map, which is then brought to the legislative body for a vote. Other states relegate the duties to an appointed commission.) At meetings, Hofeller gives a PowerPoint presentation titled “What I’ve Learned About Redistricting—The Hard Way!” Like its author, the presentation is both learned and a bit hokey, with admonitions like “Expect the unexpected” and “Don’t get ‘cute.’ Remember, this IS legislation!” He warns legislators to resist the urge to overindulge, to snatch up every desirable precinct within reach, when drawing their own districts.

But Hofeller’s helpful tips give way to the sinister warnings of a gimlet-eyed, semi-­clandestine political operative: “Make sure your security is real.” “Make sure your computer is in a PRIVATE location.” “ ‘Emails are the tool of the devil.’ Use personal contact or a safe phone!” “Don’t reveal more than necessary.” “BEWARE of non­-partisan, or bi­-partisan, staff bearing gifts. They probably are not your friends.”

Be discreet. Plan ahead. Follow the law. Don’t overreach. Tom Hofeller relishes the blood sport of redistricting, but there is a responsible way—as Hofeller himself demonstrated this past cycle in the artful (if baldly partisan) redrawing of North Carolina’s maps—and also a reckless way. So that his message will penetrate, he tells audiences horror stories about states that ignored his warnings and went with maps that either were tossed out by the federal courts or created more political problems than they solved.

Already Hofeller has picked out which cautionary tale he will relay during the next decennial tour. The new horror story, he’s decided, will be Texas, which stood, this past cycle, as a powerful example of how reckless a redistricting process can become. That mangled effort also provides a stark contrast to the maps Hofeller helped create in North Carolina—­drawings that demonstrate how in the blood sport of redistricting, the most cravenly political results are won with calculating prudence.

It’s an interesting story, one that will likely either shock you or confirm everything you’ve ever believed about politics. Other than a little bit of name-calling between national and Texas Republicans, I didn’t really learn much about why there was such reckless overreach by the GOP here. It’s just not that kind of a story. Perhaps a few things will shake loose now that this first shot has been fired, but until then it’s more tease than anything else. And while it’s certainly true that the state GOP could have gotten just about everything they wanted if they’d been slightly less greedy, it must be noted that the last laugh may yet still be theirs. Until SCOTUS rules on their Section 5 claims, anything is still possible. Burka and EoW have more.

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