Tuesday, December 27, 2011

10 of 11: Redistricting!

This is probably the quirkiest and funniest story of 2011. At the start of the year, everyone was wondering what kind of deal would be made to please most incumbents and share the treasures of Congressional gerrymandering. Honestly, that's what I was thinking when I released my first scenario for changing Nevada's Congressional map. I mean, come on... Nevada's Legislature had always been able to agree to a bipartisan gerrymander that kept most happy. Couldn't they do it again?

By April, the answer was starting to sound like one big fat "NO!" And as spring sprang and the budget brawl was becoming increasingly brutal, Nevada's pundit class was finally starting to realize that a huge "game change" was in the works. And despite the Legislature brokering a budget deal in late May (once the state Supreme Court forced it), a compromise gerrymander was looking increasingly impossible. And once sine die was reached in early June, the legal fight officially became a battle royale... And I noted that it wasn't exactly a bad thing.

Maybe this really isn't a bad thing? After all, the current districts we have are a result of a bipartisan "incumbent protection" gerrymander. Perhaps now that judges will decide the new district boundaries rather than politicians looking to protect their own behinds and/or use redistricting as a bargaining chip for something else, we'll see Congressional and legislative districts that actually make more sense. Here's to hope!

In August, redistricting took a weird turn when Judge James Todd Russell appointed "special masters" to handle the map drawing... And decide all the legal issues that he was supposed to rule on! By October, Secretary of State Ross Miller rushed to the Nevada Supreme Court to beg our state's highest court to end what seemed to be turning into a fiasco. By then, most of our state's politicos were begging Governor Sandoval and the legislators to try one more time to agree on some sort of redistricting compromise. Jon Ralston most notably asked the Gube and the Leg to "make them (Judge Russell and the "special masters") irrelevant", but I wasn't ready to give up on our new bold experiment just yet.

So is independent redistricting perfect? Nope, just look at what's happening next door. But by the same token, we can also look next door and see an overall better functioning process that gives voters more control than the usual powers that be. And that would be quite the "special" departure from the usual politics that surrounds redistricting here in Nevada.

I honestly don't know if the current judiciary mess or retrying the Legislature is the better path to take for this current round of redistricting here. But moving forward, we really need to reexamine our State Constitution (which currently requires the Legislature to redraw its own districts and Congressional Districts) and ask if we really want to endure this kind of nonsense ten years from now.

I noted that despite many legal and political hiccups, both Arizona and California ultimately ended up with fairer and more logical Congressional and Legislature maps. Maybe if we just let this process work, Nevada could also be as lucky?

Oh, we certainly ended up so! The new maps were released in mid October, and the new state of play suddenly sent a whole lot of politicians scrambling. And in addition to Congress, the Legislature also saw a huge overhaul as both Assembly and Senate districts shifted southward.

Of course, this made the Nevada GOP furious. Funny enough, they were originally pushing for court drawn maps in the hope of the redistricting law suit landing on the lap of a Republican friendly judge. And of course, they got that! However, they still threw a temper tantrum once the new maps emerged. Why? Oh, it wasn't a gerrymander... And all of a sudden, they were forced to acknowledge the shift of the balance of power from rural white Republicans to multicultural and multi-ethnic urban and suburban Democrats.

Huh? When did the Voting Rights Act ever elevate "population minorities" to the same legally protected status as racial minorities? Is [Assembly Member Pete] Goicoechea [R-Eureka] really trying to claim that rural Nevada is "discriminated against" when it has the most subsidized government services of any of us? I dare Pete Goicoechea to go to West Las Vegas and talk with the residents who remember the "Mississippi of the West" days, when no African-Americans were allowed to even step in the front door of any Strip casinos! And I dare him to go to East Las Vegas and talk with the residents who are still enduring the anti-Latin@ xenophobia that his party's US Senate candidate tried to tap into to win last year. [...]

So what's the real objection here? Simple: Population. And Power.

For decades, rural Nevada, along with Washoe County, has had disproportionate power and control over state affairs. Even though Clark became the most populous county in the state in 1960, we still haven't yet seen Clark become all that much of a force in Carson City. Again, look at the distribution of state college funds, and the distribution of public safety funds, and the constant resistance to progressive tax reform despite growing support statewide.

This really looks to be "The Cow Counties' Last Stand". Deep down, they know that Nevada is changing. Not only is Nevada's population growing more diverse, but it's also becoming more urban as Greater Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself. As we talked about on Monday, the "Bonanza" vision of Nevada is fading as the state makes the transition from bucolic desert wonderland to dynamic urban destination. And as we make that transition, our attitudes are changing on issues like taxes, land use, environmental stewardship, civil rights, and the overall needs for government.

In the end, only minor changes were made to the Legislature maps and the Nevada Supremes ultimately green-lighted the new maps this past fall. So in addition to the wide open Legislature races, we now have a red hot (even if deep blue) Democratic primary in NV-01, a real barnburner of a general election coming to Joe Heck in NV-03, and Barbara Cegavske's increasingly comical delusions of grandeur in NV-04. And who knows, maybe at some point NV-02 will join in on the fun and games next year as well.

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