Democratic Governors, led by Maryland's Martin O'Malley, rebut idea that Republicans will control redistricting

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December 3, 2010

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

WASHINGTON, DC: While newly elected Republican governors were pow-wowing with their allies in Congress, Democratic governors met at the winter meeting of the Democratic Governors Association. Martin O'Malley, re-elected as Governor of Maryland and newly voted in as the head of the DGA for the next year, tried to downplay the idea that GOP gains in the nation's governorships will translate into broad control of the reapportionment process for Congressional Districts.

Governor O'Malley pointed to the five Republican held seats his party flipped and argued that the GOP has really only picked up an advantage in redrawing the boundaries of approximately 30 Congressional seats. Speaking to his fellow governors, O'Malley said, "the tremendous seismic shift did not happen there."[1]

Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley downplayed expectations that Republican gains in the nation's governorships will translate into broad control of the reapportionment process.

The January inauguration season will see 29 Republican governors sworn in, compared to 19 Democrats and one Independent. Minnesota's race is in recount, but the Democratic candidate is expected to prevail, giving the party one more seat. However, assessing how much power any party will wield in drawing boundaries for House seats is also a matter of looking at state legislatures and state law on redistricting. States accord varying amounts on control to governors in the process and some states, some as California with its massive 53 Congressional seats, have turned the entire process over to a bipartisan or nonpartisan committee.

Reapportionment is also partly a federal process, as it is Congress that takes the results of the decennial census and makes final judgements about which states will gain and lose seats. In a post-election review of where redistricting stood immediately after the midterms, Washington Post blogger Aaron Blake made predictions that run counter to Gov. O'Malley's claims of a relatively weak hand for the GOP, something that echoes Ballotpedia's own analysis of the midterm results. Blake projected that, after counting states where the GOP controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governorship and comparing that to states where Democrats won the same trifecta, Republicans would have a four-to-one advantage in the pure number of House seats they control.[2]

Of the nine biggest states, the Republicans control all three legs of the redistricting process in six of them; Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas account for a combined 122 House Districts - close to one-third of the total. The number one state, California, is also off the table for the Dems even though they control the legislature and have retaken the governor's seat. This leaves Massachusetts, with only 10 seats and the chance of losing one of them, as the biggest state where Democrats will control the entire process.

Pending the outcome of contested state Senate races, New York is the only state where Dems could control redistricting in a larger electoral state. However, Democrats need two out of three still unresolved races to go their way just to get to an evenly split Senate, which would allow the Democratic lieutenant governor, who acts as Senate President, to break the tie. Still, New York is expected to lose two House seats, according to the official 2010 Reapportionment Study from Election Data Services.[3]

Even that does not tell the whole story. Reason Magazine's Nick Gillespie pointed out that 170 seats Republicans will draw and the Democrats' comparatively meager total of 70 are both dwarfed by the 200+ seats that will be drawn by commissions, meaning any effect of GOP dominance at the state level will be muted.[4]

On top of this is the question of whether either party controls redistricting in states where it would be in the party's interest to make substantive changes to the current layout of Congressional boundaries. That issue itself has to contend with how state law is written to counter attempts at politically biased redistricting and with how strong public backlash will be over any perceived improprieties in the process.