(Posted June 17) The editor of a left-wing online website plays Paul Revere for the Democratic Party in a new book, but he acknowledges Dems have already lost the battles of Lexington and Concord. The best they can hope for is Stony Point somewhere down the road.
With the politically-incorrect title “RATF**KED,” now available in bookstores (W.W. Norton, $26.95, 245 pp., ISBN 978-1-63149-162-7), author David Daley, editor-in-chief of the digital magazine Salon, describes how Republicans recovered from their horrendous defeat in 2008 by Barack Obama by gaining control of the Congressional and legislative redistricting process to seize power in the U.S. House and state capitals throughout the country.
In case you have any doubt where Daley is coming from, his book’s subtitle is “The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy.”
In RATF**KED’s Chapter 5, Michigan is spotlighted, and already former Congressman/state legislator Mark Schauer (D-Battle Creek), the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, has been recruited to lead a Democratic counterattack to try to reverse the damage to his party in the last three elections.
In an online interview with Daley on C-SPAN 2’s Book TV, the problem of how to deal with the book’s unseemly non-PG title was solved by calling it simply “Rat F.” The title is American slang from the 1920s regarding political sabotage and was used by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their classic book on Watergate, “All the President’s Men.” In essence, the word means “a dirty deed done cheap.”
Daley explains how the GOP, using highly sophisticated computer mapping software and hardware supported by millions of dollars in “dark money,” has produced Republican majorities in most state legislatures that will probably hold up for the balance of the decade, no matter how things go in November of this year.
Daley identifies a little-known political consultant in Richmond, Virginia —Chris Jankowski — as the national mastermind behind this effort. Jankowski and former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie put together what is called the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) and its REDMAP project.
Jankowski recognized that 2010 presented opportunity for his party. The president’s party usually loses seats in the next off-year election. More importantly, 2010 was a year that ended in a “zero,” which meant it was the last election before reapportionment (or redistricting — either term will do). In the Citizens United era of fund-raising, Jankowski was able to collect some $30 million to put into targeted legislative races in states projected to gain or lose seats in Congress after the 2010 Census. That’s not much in national terms — no more than the cost of a single U.S. Senate campaign. Jankowski focused on states where control in state legislative chambers was tight, and, by changing a few seats, the majority could be flipped to the GOP. The RSLC finished with a 3-1 fundraising edge over the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in 2010. Minority Republicans in Michigan’s state House of Representatives, which received $1 million from the RSLC, picked up a whopping 20 seats in the 2010 election — seven more than they needed to be in the majority in the 96th Legislature.
Daley’s book examines six states where the 2010 elections gave Republicans complete control over redistricting: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and, of course, Michigan. State legislative and Congressional district maps were enacted by those legislatures in 2011-12. Daley also has a chapter on Arizona, where districts are drawn not by the Legislature but by an independent redistricting commission. Another chapter is on Iowa, where the state’s legislative service bureau, adhering mechanically to strict redistricting criteria that prohibits use of any voting data, draws the lines.
Daley devotes Chapter 5 of his book to Michigan. When he visited Michigan to do research last September, he rented a car and drove the perimeter of the 14th Congressional district, 170 miles in length, with the aid of a turn-by-turn map. He started in Delray on Detroit’s lower east side and worked his way up to Pontiac, where he discovered the enclave’s northernmost tip was a garbage dump. Daley calls Michigan’s 14th CD “the district with a cherry on top.” In hilarious fashion, Daley describes various landmarks he passed as he closely followed the contours of the district’s boundary lines on his drive. “If every gerrymandered strict is its own Rorschach test,” opines Daley, then the 14th is like “a coiled snake with Pontiac as the snake’s head.”
The next day Daley traveled over to Lansing to conduct three interviews. He met with Republican political operative Jeff Timmer (at Biggby’s on Allegan St.); Sterling Corp. senior counsel Bob LaBrant (at the Grand Traverse Pie Company a half-block from Biggby’s); and two freshmen Democratic state representatives — Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) and Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield).
Timmer, who actually drew the Michigan Congressional map (and had been involved in drawing two earlier ones, in 1991 and 2001), reminded Daley that the shape of the 14th CD was influenced in part by city and township boundary lines, and by the need to connect Detroit with Pontiac in order to ensure that there would be two districts in Michigan that were (racially) majority-minority as required by the federal Voting Rights Act. Detroit had lost some 25% of its population between 2000 and 2010, so to preserve Michigan’s pair of enclaves that were at least 55% African-American voting age, Pontiac, with its pool of black voters, had to be linked to Motown.
Timmer also told Daley that a redistricting plan always has an uncertain shelf life. For example, critics of today’s maps (almost exclusively Democrats) expressed the same alarm about the 2001 Michigan redistricting plan, calling it an extreme gerrymander that would dictate election results for an entire decade. However, by 2008 the GOP had lost two seats in its U.S. House delegation, backsliding from a 9-6 edge over its Democratic rivals to a 7-8 deficit. In the state House, Republicans began the 2003-04 session with a 62-48 majority but found itself in a steep 43-67 R/D hole when the votes were counted in 2008. Even in the Senate, the GOP lost a seat (in 2006), although it retained a 21-17 majority.
Timmer argued to Daley that “manipulation of the maps aspect is somewhat overblown.” Was the 2001 remap really such a great gerrymander? “If so, by 2006, we’re looking like fools. By 2008, we’re downright stupid.” Candidates still matter; events also matter. In 2008, after the stock market and banking crash “it would have taken the Great Wall of China to hold back those waves,” explained Timmer.
About LaBrant, who last year published a highly-regarded political memoir entitled PAC Man, the liberal Daley had this to say: “(LaBrant) is an unsung genius of the Super PAC, a visionary who saw where politics, the courts, technology and campaign contributions were headed decades before others did … Karl Rove and (pollster) Frank Luntz might be the Republican strategists and thinkers everyone recognizes, but LaBrant quietly and effectively ran this playbook starting in the 1970s … LaBrant might be the genius who first recognized — and fought for every element of the modern redistricting strategy.”
It was LaBrant, writes Daley, who put together a million dollar+plus Michigan reapportionment Fund in 1989 in time for the 1991 reapportionment cycle during the time LaBrant was senior vice president for political affairs and general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
“Seven figures for redistricting was a lot of money, especially in 1991. It helped purchase those early 386 computers Timmer and his colleagues used, as well as serious legal firepower,” Daley explains. “LaBrant cemented his role as the conservative Zelig of redistricting by directing the challenge that would become Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a key Supreme Court case on the road to Super PACs and Citizens United.”
“Perhaps no individual has done more than LaBrant to shape Michigan politics, let alone one who has never held office,” concludes Daley. “LaBrant’s memoir, aptly and hilariously titled PAC Man … does more to explain the GOP blueprint for, and domination of the last 45 years of campaign finance, redistricting and judicial elections than any other book. It should be required reading, mostly because there’s no reason why a lawyer and Chamber of Commerce official should have such outsize influence. But LaBrant recognized Karl Rove’s dictum early — you draw the lines, you make the rules — and figured out how to use the Chamber’s PAC to not just grab a seat at the table, but to help pay to rent the room.”
Daley’s description of his meeting with his ideological soulmates, Reps. Hoadley and Moss, is, ironically, an anti-climax.
It is Hoadley and Moss who have co-sponsored a House Joint Resolution to add an Independent Redistricting Commission to the Michigan Constitution. It’s the same idea the League of Women Voters of Michigan, abetted by Democrats and so-called “moderate” Republicans from the Milliken era of state GOP politics, pushed last year at regional meetings held across the state. That effort foundered when the League backed away from launching a petition drive after Democrats and others failed to pledge funding. Moss and Hoadley told Daley of their frustration with many of their Democratic colleagues who say 2020 is going to be “their” year. Democrats might control the whole process then and enact their own redistricting plans, so they have been told. Meanwhile, the Hoadley-Moss resolution will never even be brought to a vote.
Mark Schauer was a victim of the 2011 Congressional remap which took his home county of Calhoun out of the 7th CD, a fiefdom he had won in 2008 and then lost in 2010. Calhoun was put in the 3rd district, the second-most Republican district in the 2011 map along with parts of Kent, Barry, and Ionia counties represented by Justin Amash. Amash’s 3rd is now about 6% less Republican, but he didn’t really need that cushion, and he realizes it’s valued more by his Republican colleague Tim Walberg in the more marginal 7th.
Schauer, after finding his old CD cut out from under him, chose not to challenge Walberg to win his old seat back in 2012. Instead, he waited to challenge Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder in 2014, a race he lost albeit narrowly. Last year, Schauer was named to lead Advantage 2020, a Super PAC formed by the (national) Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee with plans to raise $70 million and spend those funds in targeted state legislative races across the country this year as well as 2018 and 2020. The Democrats are modeling Advantage 2020 after the REDMAP project of Chris Jankowski.
Now Jankowski has raised the stakes on Schauer by announcing that the REDMAP Project has a goal of raising and spending $125 million in state legislative elections between now and 2020.
The battle for 2021-22 redistricting has begun.