The Dismantling Of Progressive America. Why The 2018 Elections And 2020 Census Matter.

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The 2018 and 2020 elections are critically important, because they align to a “zero” year, or a year when the census is taken. Correlated with every census is the reappropriation and redistricting process of state and federal districts. Sounds boring, right? No. Those who draw the lines, draw the power. In fact, in 2010 - 2011, these powers were so abused that we are now seeing some of this gerrymandering ruled “unconstitutional” by federal district courts.

What happened in 2010?

Two critical events happened in 2009 - 2010. First, in 2009, two Republican strategists (Chris Jankowski and Ed Gillespie) used $30M to intentionally “flip” more than a dozen state legislatures from Democratic to Republican control in the 2010 election. The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) called the effort the REDistricting MAjority Project, or Project REDMAP, and the 2010 electoral elections saw almost 700 Republican wins across state legislatures.

Secondly, with these wins, Republicans now held unprecedented power over the redistricting process correlated with the 2010 census. Coupled with the rise in technology, Republicans were able to draw districts to keep their seats uncompetitive, prompt Republican wins across the states, and dictate the political agenda within each state for the next ten years.

Wait, did this really happen?

Yes. Since 2010, all of the states targeted with REDMAP have seen a systematic dismantling of their progressive agenda, from reproductive health care to voter ID laws to collective bargaining rights (see maps below). In fact, like a conservative baton, many states passed conservative legislation from one state to the next.

Republicans already control all three chambers (State House, State Senate, Governor) in 24 states (plus Nebraska, which is technically non-partisan, but Republican) -- by 2017, 26 states -- and two chambers in six more states. By comparison, Democrats control all three chambers in only six states and two chambers in seven states.

This is what is allowing for the dismantling of the progressive landscape. It is impossible to pass, maintain or protect a progressive agenda in state governments that are entirely controlled by the Republican party.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve seen many recommendations to support our friends at the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center -- and so many more organizations working for justice. Which I wholly support. Yet, unless we change the people within the state legislatures, we will continue to fight the symptom and not the disease. To put it bluntly, if we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu.

What can we do about it?

Because the census happens every ten years, and state legislative elections happen every two year, the 2018 and 2020 state legislature races carry a disproportionate amount of weight to preserve what is remaining of the Democratic Party, and America’s progressive values.

To change this, we must: (1) support democrats, but especially women and people of color to run for office (2) run for office ourselves (3) petition for independent commissions to draw the 2020 districts for each state; and (4) continue to follow the Wisconsin 2010 redistricting court case, which recently found gerrymandering in the state to be unconstitutional.


What happened in 2009 - 2010?

In 2009, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) put it efforts into the 2010 election cycles “to erect a Republican firewall through the redistricting process” for Republicans to win a majority in the U.S. Federal House of Representatives.

To quote from the REDMAP website itself:

“The rationale was straightforward: Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn. Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.”

Targeting specific state legislative races was not illegal. Some of the gerrymandering that ensued afterwards was potentially illegal, and it is just now making it way through the federal court system. More on this later.

How did this play out?

Just look below. In the states where REDMAP put its calculated efforts, it won. The strategy worked. REDMAP targeted key “purplish” states in order to secure Republican victories at the state level, and 2010 was a landslide victory for Republicans. They won 29 of the 50 governorships, gained 690 seats in state legislatures and 20 state chambers to hold their greatest number since the 1928 elections.

As a result of REDMAP, in 2010 Republicans won:

  • Control of the New York State Senate
  • Control of Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly
  • 20 seats in the Michigan Assembly
  • 3 seats in the Pennsylvania Assembly
  • 5 seats in the Ohio Assembly
  • 22 seats in the Texas House
  • Investment for republican candidates in 13 additional states, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington.

For more information, please see this in-depth summary of the strategic REDMAP wins from the REDMAP website.

Take a look at the blue states (D) that turned to yellow (Split) or red (R) from 2010 to 2011, including: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin. (Note: Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana also flipped but were not explicitly targeted by REDMAP; also Texas stayed Republican but Republicans had a greater advantage with 22 House seats picked up by REDMAP).

With so many wins in 2010, the Republican-controlled state legislatures were able to redraw their districts for the census, thus solidifying their control -- both in representation and in policy making -- for the next ten years.

Let’s see how this played out.

In 2014, REDMAP continued to fund state legislature races for Republican candidates in swing states, taking key wins in: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (Side note for the 2016 Presidential election: Do these four states sound important?).

And by 2016, the landscape for progressives was looking much worse.

Images: Source

By comparing the above maps between 2010 and 2016, we see that 21 states changed from Split-or-Democratic to Republican-or-Split state legislatures (House and Senate). Thirteen of these (in bold) were targeted specifically by REDMAP: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin; Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia

To summarize: REDMAP investments > 2010 State Legislature Republican Wins > 2010 Census Drawn to keep & gain Republican seats = No More Progressive Agenda unless we change this in 2018 and 2020.

So what does this all mean?


That’s a lot of red, but why do state legislatures matter to me?

State laws are what affects your immediate decisions around healthcare, gun control, voter ID laws, minimum wage, collective bargaining rights (unions, teachers and police departments) -- essentially, the things that affect you daily. And if you identify as a progressive American, they are slowly being stripped away.

We’re using three examples: (1) Access to abortion (2) Voter ID laws (3) Collective bargaining rights, to show how the progressive landscape of America is being dismantled by Republican-controlled state legislatures -- and specifically, the 13 GOP-controlled state legislatures that came to be from the redistricting efforts sealed by the REDMAP investments.


Reproductive health rights

Between 2010 and 2015, states passed 288 abortion restrictions, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, also known as TRAP laws. This is almost double the amount of legislation passed in the ten years prior (2000 - 2010). See the map below for the number of abortion restrictions passed between 2011 - 2015. Does it look familiar? It looks like the REDMAP.

Of the 21 states that have flipped between 2010 and 2016, 15 introduced restrictions on abortion (underlined). Of the thirteen of states flipped by REDMAP (bold), nine passed restrictive abortion laws (underlined).

  • Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan,, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin; Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia

Number of Abortion Restrictions Between 2011 and 2015

Image Source

As of 2014, 87% of counties did not have access to an abortion provider. This means that in less than six years, Republican controlled state legislatures, predominately run by white men, were able to restrict your access to abortion and reproductive health care.

Voter ID Laws

Voter ID laws are passed under the guise of “voter fraud” but resounding evidence finds they are enacted to make it more difficult for certain groups of people to vote. These laws disenfranchise poor and minority voters, which are also groups that tend to vote for Democrats.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, after 2010, hundreds of voter ID laws were introduced throughout state legislatures to limit voter’s rights. These bills take the form of:

  • forcing individuals to use IDs in order to vote (i.e. limits groups like immigrants who might be challenged in getting an ID)
  • increasing rules and timing around voter registration (i.e. can not register day-of or onsite)
  • limiting access to early voting (i.e. can’t vote on the Sunday before, which is when black churches will offer rides to the polls, also knowns as “Souls to the polls”)
  • restricting the reinstatement of voter’s rights (i.e. for those coming out of the justice system)

Red = Restriction in place for first time in Presidential Election in 2016

Light red = Restriction in place in 2012 Presidential Election

Image source

Since 2010, twenty states have enacted laws placing restrictions on voting. Of these states, “10 states have more restrictive voter ID laws in place (and six states have strict photo ID requirements), seven have laws making it harder for citizens to register, six cut back on early voting days and hours, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions.”

Of the 21 states that have flipped between 2010 and 2016, seven introduced voter ID laws (underlined). Of the thirteen of states flipped by REDMAP (bold), five passed restrictive laws (underlined).

  • Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin; Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia

To note, it is estimated that in my home state of Wisconsin, Voter ID laws affected ~325K people (9% of registered voters in 2016 did not have IDs; total registered voters were 3.6M); Hillary lost that state by a (now being recounted) 27,257 votes.

Furthermore, these new laws also aligned with the gutting of the Voter’s Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013, so many of these Voter ID laws are staying.

Want to see what voter ID laws were enacted in your state? Here’s an interactive map.

Collective Bargaining Rights

What are these? Great question. Collective bargaining rights allow teachers, police officers, firefighters and others to unionize and “collectively bargain” for wages, benefits, hours, leave and safety policies. These rights have been a part of the American workforce since the 1920s and 1930s, effectively ensuring middle class Americans can afford, and keep up, with costs of living and raising families.

Take a look at the map below and see if you can spot the pattern. This graph are shows laws that were passed in 2011 and 2012, or immediately after the GOP took control of state legislatures.

Image source (2013)

“In 2011 and 2012, 15 state legislatures passed laws restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights. ...Collective bargaining rights were eliminated for Tennessee schoolteachers, Oklahoma municipal employees, graduate student research assistants in Michigan, and farm workers and child care providers in Maine. Michigan and Pennsylvania both created ‘emergency financial managers’ authorized to void union contracts. New Jersey’s and Minnesota’s legislatures both voted to limit public employees’ ability to bargain over health care.

...The most striking feature of the pattern of state legislation—relating not just to union rights but also to a wide range of labor and employment standards,...—is the extent to which similar legislation has been introduced, in largely cookie-cutter fashion, in multiple legislatures across the country.” (website)

Of the 21 states that have flipped between 2010 and 2016, nine limited collective bargaining rights (underlined). Of the thirteen of states flipped by REDMAP (bold), seven passed laws (underlined).

  • Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin; Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia


It would be worth looking at other progressive issues, such as gun control, minimum wage, criminal justice reform, paid family leave, childcare costs, sustainable energy, student debt, marriage equality, immigration reform, fair housing -- and many more -- to see if they follow similar REDMAP trends.


Essentially, any issue you care about, if you identify as a progressive, is being slowly dismantled. As many communities know, rights are not given, they are won. To fix this, we must start organizing. While I’ve elaborated below on two tactics to change the progressive landscape in America, the roots of change are grounded in community organizing.

Community Organizing

You might know names like Dolores Huerta, Saul Alinsky or Marshall Ganz as some of the great community organizers. Community organizing, at its core, is getting groups of individuals together to act collectively in a shared self-interest. It can, and should, be used for all of the tactics below. For example, for those who live in traditionally blue states like California, Oregon and New York, you could organize a meetup of people originally from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin to advocate for the shared goals in these “purplish” home states as described below.

Tactics for the Progressive Agenda

The outcome of REDMAP happened over the span of 5–8 years; it will take time, intention and effort to dismantle. The below are just two tactics, for a policy-makers agenda, to bring back progressive America.

Change the composition of our state legislatures:

  1. Encourage democrats to run in local state legislatures, especially women and people of color;
  1. Support democrats in purplish state legislature races by canvassing, registering voters, making phone calls, holding house parties etc..

Change the redistricting process:

  1. Pass ballot initiatives to have independent commissions draw the 2020 districts;
  1. Introduce legislation for independent commissions to draw the 2020 districts;
  1. Support the Holder-Obama team and Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) who are tackling redistricting for 2020;
  1. Continue to follow the Wisconsin 2010 Gerrymandering lawsuit, which may go to the Supreme Court and ultimately have a dramatic impact on the redistricting process.

Changing State Legislatures Compositions

The US State Legislatures have only ~25% female representation (52% US population), 9% African-Americans (13% of the population), 5% Hispanics (17% of the population), less than 1% Native Americans (2% of total population). Furthermore, women are 34% of the Democratic party and only 17% of the Republican party. Minority groups comprise 33% of the Democratic party and only 5% of the Republican party.

Research finds that when more women are in office, we see policies that align more to a progressive agenda around civil rights, labor and health. Individuals bring their shared experience to office, and until we have these underrepresented groups at the table, we will continue to see legislature that, not only does not represent us, but also marginalizes us.

How can we fix this?

  • Encourage women and communities of color to run for office and join training programs. A woman needs to be asked seven times on average to run for office; a man? Zero. Training programs like Emerge America and VoteRunLead train women, and specifically women of color, to run for office. The Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute and Latino Victory Project are also leaders in these fields. Encourage people you know to enter these programs and support them in their run for office.
  • Find your local democratic candidates for 2018 State Assembly and State Senate races, and start volunteering to canvass, register voters, make phone calls, hold house parties or host fundraisers. My research could not find a centralized database to type in a zip code and see who is running for office; however, Common Cause and other sites will show your current elected official. (Note: If you are a person with technical skills who is interested in creating this type of database for 2018, please reach out to me; it could be a critical use).
  • If you live in an “all blue” state like California, New York, Oregon, research nearby states like Nevada, Colorado or New Mexico and get involved in those local state legislature democratic elections. Or if you are originally from one of the states targeted by REDMAP in 2010, use your personal legacy and ties to that home state to reconnect with the local political scene. How to do this? (1) Select your nearby state or home state legislatures (2) research your State Senator, State Assemblyperson, if they are a Republican or Democrat, and if their next election is 2018 or 2020. Note that Assemblypeople are two-year terms, and so every single Assemblyperson will be up for reelection in 2018. States will usually alter between the “odd” or “even” districts for State Senators elections. (3) If your representative is a Republican, stay up to date on who / when the Democratic candidate will be running. Sign up to volunteer through the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the organizing body for Democrats in state legislatures.
  • Fundraise for Democratic campaigns and organizations: Yes, we hate that money drives politics. Yes, the candidate with the most amount of money raised wins almost 99% of the time. But until we have enough individuals in power to rewrite legislation on campaign finance reform, we must fundraise for candidates. Your local democratic candidates will need the support. A few groups are: Emily’s List which funds democratic pro-choice women and has a State Senate legislature campaign called “FOCUS 2020”; MoveOn is a Political Action Committee (PAC) that supports all levels of democratic candidates; and the DLCC, which exclusively supports state democratic legislative candidates.

Change the redistricting process

The reason 2018 and 2020 are so important is because the legislators who are in office in 2020 will be in charge of the redistricting process that follows the 2020 census. However, the system is clearly flawed. Currently 37 states allow the legislature control of their districts, and 11 states have an independent redistricting commissions or an “Advisory Commission”.

So, what can you do to encourage a state to use an independent commission?

Image source

  • Introduce a ballot initiative for 2018. A ballot initiative allows citizens to get an initiative “on the ballot” to be voted on by the public, but only 26 states offer this. For the states that allow ballot initiatives and are under GOP-control, campaign to put an initiative put on the ballot for the 2018 election. These include key states like Ohio and Florida, as well as: Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, as well as, Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia, Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Research “How to get an initiative on the ballot in [STATE]” and follow that process.
  • Introduce legislation for an independent commission to draw the 2020 districts for your state. It is unlikely that the GOP-controlled state legislatures would approve a redistricting bill; however, in the six states that are controlled by democrats, legislation could prevent this type of fall in the future. The only state that is democratically controlled and also uses the legislature alone is Delaware. Oregon, Connecticut and Hawaii use other types of commissions and the legislation may / may not be as useful.
  • Join the Holder-Obama team. Democrats are finally waking up to this. Before the 2016 election, President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder, in partnership with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), said that state redistricting would be his number one priority after he leaves offices. Like the Republicans in 2010, they said they are working to “coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps” for 2018 and 2020. Like Chris Jankowski, Obama and Holder are putting together a team of people. They will need folks who are lawyers, computer scientists, data visualization experts and policy wonks; join them.
  • Follow the federal court ruling on gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Just a few days ago, the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin found the drawing of Wisconsin Assembly districts by Republicans to be unconstitutional (violating both first and 14th amendment rights). This is highly, highly relevant as the case is likely to go to the Supreme Court. The specifics of this case provide a type of mathematical test to determine gerrymandering. A ruling by the Supreme Court could dramatically affect the redistricting procedures from the 2020 census, and could also open a window for technology to draw districts, in a way that is more fair.

To show the magnitude of the gerrymandering in 2010 that resulted from REDMAP:

The progressive landscape for Americans will continue to be dismantled, perhaps even faster and with more finality, unless we can alter the political landscape. Each of us is still has the agency, on a local level, to change this. If you want to work together on some of these issues, and especially if you are interested in issues pertaining to Wisconsin, please reach out @MelissaSandgren

Additional Sources:

  • TRAP Law Source (Reproductive Rights)