The real battle is at the state level

The real battle is at the state level


While much attention is focused on the federal elections, a more profound change might be underway in state legislatures across the country.

Controlling the statehouses is important for two reasons. One, that’s where the future leaders of both parties cut their teeth. Being in control means being able to point to a track record of legislative achievement. It’s better practice for governing on a national level than being a perennial opposition party.

More directly, it’s the state legislatures that draw Congressional districts after each census. Whichever party controls the statehouses in 2010-11 will be able to draw those districts to their advantage, cementing a decade-long advantage at the national level.

Right now the parties are almost evenly divided. Republicans control both chambers in 20 states; Democrats have that advantage in 19. They are virtually tied in the number of statehouse seats they hold.

If the Democratic wave at the national level is mirrored in local results, Democrats could be poised to take over a solid majority of statehouses. If they retain that control in 2010, it could redraw the political map in their favor.

To be clear, I think gerrymandering is terrible. I’ve written before about the need to come up with objective formula for drawing districts, and even discussed some proposals for doing exactly that.

So I’m not celebrating the idea of Democrats being able to gerrymander in 2010. But it’s hard to overestimate the long-term significance of the local races.

  • kim

    Didn’t the Supreme Court recently rule that individual states can redraw districts at will?(Texas, Tom Delay, etc)

  • Sean Aqui

    They didn’t explicitly outlaw it, but they didn’t unequivocally okay it, either.

    Here’s a good piece on the ruling.

  • C.S.Strowbridge

    Instead of gerrymandering in their favor, they should write into the state constitutions that you can’t gerrymander at all. Use a computer to draw the districts using only the population data with the goal of making the shortest borders.

  • grognard

    C.S. see Sean’s post, where redistricting was not allowed due to “diluting� the Latino vote shows why your otherwise excellent idea won’t be allowed. We need to view each other as citizens, rather than groups that have to be protected somehow. Sorry you are way ahead of the times.

  • Jim S


    The reason redistricting wasn’t allowed that diluted the Latino vote was that the dilution was the point of the redistricting. I think the courts would uphold a system like C.S. proposed.

  • Jim S


    As a fellow Missourian I think that since we’re stuck with Blunt for two more years a divided government in Missouri is as good an idea as it is at the federal level.

  • grognard

    Jim S , I see your point that the lines were redrawn just for that purpose, but I still wonder if the courts would allow a computer drawn district if that also diluted a particular group, say a line drawn down the middle of a latino community. If you could do what C.S. suggests it would be a great way to end the practice.

  • Richard Bottoms


    Evil, maybe? Flawed, for sure.

  • Vitamin

    This sure isn’t the newest post but I stumbled across the title and found it intresting so I read it.

    Anyways we all know what happend. Great blog, keep up the good work!