What Republican Legislatures Have Wrought

Emily Bazelon has an important piece on gerrymandering at the New York Times: The New Front in the Gerrymandering Wars: Democracy vs. Math. I highly recommend reading the entire thing, because I'm just going to highlight one bit.

A central issue of the gerrymandering problem which subverts the democratic process in the United States is the increasing number of state legislatures held by Republican majorities — who continually fix election rules to ensure not only Republican majorities in national elections, but to protect and maintain their majorities on the state level.

They don't only pass election laws favorable to themselves, but all kinds of retrograde social policy that appeals to their base.

This isn't generally seen as an electoral strategy, but it is. From Bazelon's piece:
Since 2010, the number of competitive races in House elections has shrunk. That's partly because Democrats increasingly cluster in blue cities, geographically limiting their voting power. But it's also because redistricting has become more targeted as voters have become more predictable. Once you join Team Red or Team Blue, you're likely to stay on it. "If you know how everyone is going to vote, and where they're going to live, then you have all the information you need," says Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford law professor who has served as a court-­appointed redistricting expert in several states.
To say that Democrats "increasingly cluster in blue cities" is an accurate statement, and a profoundly important one. But without any context, the casual reader might pass right by it without considering, critically, why it is that Democratic voters are clustering in "blue cities."

This is something I've addressed previously:
Millions of the people who are concentrated in cities like New York, Chicago, Austin, and San Francisco (among others) are there because they were persecuted in their homes, and find greater safety in spaces where laws have been passed to protect them. Millions of queer people who are targeted by Republican legislatures in their home states; millions of women who fear childbearing in an area without robust reproductive choice; millions of Black people who are the descendants of elders who were kept out of small Northern sundown towns. Etc.

Republican legislatures have enacted regressive social policy (or failed thoroughly to progress on social issues), making their states unattractive to employers (so there are fewer jobs) and to progressive and/or marginalized residents, many of whom move (if they are able) to find work and to escape oppressive social policy. And sometimes for even more personal reasons: It may be difficult, if you're a feminist or an atheist or a progressive etc., to find a partner — hell, even friends — in many very conservative areas.

These policies are a big part of what's created the imbalanced concentrations in California and New York. And one of the things about which we simply refuse to have a meaningful national conversation is that it's increasingly difficult for Democrats to win in "middle America" because there are fewer and fewer Democratic voters left there.

Yes, of course we should and must address voter suppression and gerrymandering, and building bridges to old and new communities of Democratic voters, but we also need to be honest that none of that deals with the problem of Democratic voters who simply leave for states with more opportunity, better infrastructure, and welcoming social policy.

That's a conversation that makes people uncomfortable because it veers dangerously close to the idea that we are becoming an irreconcilably divided nation. Ignoring it isn't going to make that better.
Let us be blunt here: The Republican Party knows that, in states like Arkansas, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, and West Virginia, they can pass policies which are heinous to everyone but their base — because if those policies, and/or the lack of educational and employment opportunities they create, drive progressives and moderates out of those states, it doesn't matter. To the contrary, it helps solidify Republicans' electoral dominance in those states.

It doesn't matter if, say, Montana has a population of one million or ten thousand: They still get two Senators. And even at a population of one million, they already, along with the other aforementioned states, "wield disproportionate power in the upper chamber compared to their populations."

And if/as their populations dwindle, the Republicans are then left to only represent (and be accountable to) their base. No worries about being primaried. No worries about having to be a "big tent." None of the worries with which a political party like the Democrats, the GOP's only real competition, has to contend.

The Republicans have long sought, and are slowly enacting, total dominance in every place they can. And a part of that strategy, whether originally by design or the result of happy coincidence, is exploiting the fact the people most disposed to vote Democratic are increasingly concentrating themselves outside of Republican strongholds.

As I have long argued, no progressive should be told to "just move" (as if it's that easy) when they live in a state with a Republican legislature who is hostile to their values and agency and very existence. That said, no one should blame any progressive who has the resources and desire to self-select the fuck out of that situation, either.

Progressive clustering does, however, put us in a dire electoral predicament. The country is changing; the Republicans are accelerating these divisions; and the laws need to change.

But the Republicans won't change them.

So where will that ultimately leave us? In an increasingly divided country, with an increasingly concentrated leadership who foments those divisions. And that is a very dangerous place indeed for a country to be.

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