WASHINGTON ―Democratic governors are planning to invest at least $20 million dollars this year in gubernatorial races that could determine which party has control over drawing electoral boundaries in 2021.
The Democratic Governors Association’s announcement signals that the party is increasingly focusing on state races that could impact redistricting. Republicans, targeting low-profile state races in 2010, won those races and were able to draw congressional and statewide lines that significantly benefited the party. Congressional redistricting is only done once each decade, so control over the process has enduring consequences. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates Republicans hold an additional 16 seats to 17 seats in Congress because of gerrymandered maps.
During a press conference on Friday, Govs. Jay Inslee (Wash.), Dannel Malloy (Conn.) and Tom Wolf (Penn.) said the money would be spent in eight states: Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine and Florida. The governors were in the nation’s capital Friday for the National Governors Association winter meeting, which hosts governors from both parties.
“There is a cancer on our democracy right now, and it’s called gerrymandering. And we know that there has to be a cure to that. And we know that the best cure is to elect Democratic governors who can stop this assault on democracy,” Inslee, the current DGA chairman, said.
When asked whether the DGA has already raised the $20 million, Inslee said, “Our contributions are growing so rapidly. We’re very confident we’ll be able to finance this.”
In most states, lawmakers and the governor must agree on redistricting plans, meaning that a party can wield massive influence if it controls both the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Malloy said Friday that targeting governors’ races was an effective way to increase Democratic influence over redistricting because many state legislative seats remained gerrymandered from 2010 midterms.
Even though the Democratic governors want more control over the redistricting process, they say they would use their power to make elections more fair, not to benefit Democrats. While Republicans enjoy a significant advantage from the last round of redistricting, there are some states, like Maryland and Illinois, where the process has benefited Democrats.
“This is not about our desire to rig the map,” Malloy said.
Pressed on whether the DGA was endorsing nonpartisan redistricting processes as a matter of policy, Inslee said that it was not.
But speaking individually, Inslee said that he would prefer a “more nonpartisan system.” Wolf voiced his agreement.
“There is a cancer on our democracy right now, and it’s called gerrymandering. And we know that there has to be a cure to that.”
The new funding initiative came as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering two cases dealing with partisan gerrymandering. The court has never articulated a standard for when partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, but could do so in June. Even if the court does come up with a unprecedented standard, it is unlikely that it would order states to redraw fairer maps in 2018 because the midterm elections are so close.
Wolf, one of the rare Democratic governors elected in 2014, is fresh off of a successful court battle with his Republican legislature that resulted in a dramatic redrawing of the state’s congressional districts. He dismissed Republican lawmakers’ threats to impeach the state Supreme Court justices that redrew the map as “nonsense” that lacked “credibility.”
Wolf paraphrased the film “Animal House” when a reporter asked him to explain his political adversaries’ motives.
“Some folks have figured this is a situation that calls for an entirely futile gesture on someone’s part, and they feel they’re just the folks to do it,” he said.
Malloy said that Democrats should have moved more quickly to challenge the maps and have been more aggressive in 2010 to have more control over the redistricting process.
“One of the lessons we’ve learned is that we should have been in the courts a lot sooner after the last set of maps were drawn. It was part of falling asleep at the wheel quite frankly,” he said.