In many political districts, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. It’s no accident. It’s the way the lines for the districts are drawn. Learn more about the once-a-decade process in a new documentary, “Gerrymandering.” Director Jeff Reichert will discuss his new film.
Ted Simons: Every 10 years, boundary lines for political districts are redrawn. In Arizona, a redistricting commission made up of Republican and Democrats and often Independents assist responsible for drawing the new maps. In many other states, the legislature does the job. With politics a major part of the process. A new film takes a look at how that process can be man up lated. I'll talk to the film's director and a former political candidate and lawmaker about the new documentary, "Gerrymandering," but first, here's a trailer for the film.
Trailer for "Gerrymandering": Republicans want half a million more votes than the democrats. But the Democratic Party won 31 more seats.
Too many districts today. People's vote probably won't make a difference. There's an image of an American democracy that is open to change. This image -
Whoever runs in November is going to win, whether you like them or not.
Work out the districts behind closed doors.
There are other systems than having hacks drought lines.
The president needs this.
There is no such thing as two partisan. There's only part son.
This is about politics. This is about who holds power.
Gerrymandering is maybe the greatest election scam ever perpetrated on the American people.
In the spring of 2001, he began the process of redrawing his own district. A huge turning point in Obama's political career.
The deck is stacked against us.
Voter discrimination must end.
The myth of Democracy is that.
Ted Simons: Here to talk about "Gerrymandering" is its director, Jeff Reichert, and also here is Ken Clark, a former legislator and now chairman of the Arizona competitive districts coalition. Thanks for joining us. Let's define terms. What's gerrymandering?
Jeff Reichert: Gerrymandering is the manipulation of district lines for some sort of gain. That gain could be political, to vantage one party or another, an ethnic group or racial group, or protect an incumbent.
Ted Simons: So compare gerrymandering to straight redistricting.
Jeff Reichert: Redistricting is the sort of banal term for an administrative things we're supposed to do every 10 years, adjust for population changes so everybody gets equal representation. The problem is, in something like 46 states, that process is left entirely up to the hands of the legislators. So the people running under those lines determine what their districts look like.
Ted Simons: Not so long ago in Arizona we decided to go ahead with a commission as opposed to letting the legislature do that. How it is working out?
Ken Clark: Mixed. The commission was qood at making more compact districts for the large part, but we have only half as many competitive districts as we had in the 1990s. I should say we only drew half as many of the districts, We've grown in competitive districts but mostly because people have moved around.
Ted Simons: Did the idea of the commission, though, was the-to-keep that from happening. Is this a good way, it is the best way we know how here in Arizona to avoid these problems? Because if the problems are still there, what do you do next?
Ken Clark: We can't change the commission. It is what it is now. The biggest problem we have I think is that almost half the voters in the state effectively have no voice. Because whoever they vote for in the primary is probably not going to win in the general. It's that partisan. We believe we could get more than 10 out of 30 competitive districts in the legislature, and four out of nine in the new congressional mapping.
Ted Simons: Have you found the idea of a commission, citizens commission, whatever, as opposed to legislatures going ahead and redistricting? Is that an improvement?
Jeff Reichert: I think in most cases you will see some improvements. It's depends on how you constitute the commission. At least you're taking obvious self interest out of the process. In California, they've adopted commission that looks like Arizona's, it's bigger, it has certain different search guards, but they're going to do all their districting by a 15-member commission starting in 2011.
Ted Simons: Your film also deals with some pretty obvious curiosities in the system, including what happened in Texas with what, Democratic lawmakers basically fleeing the state because of gerrymandering operations?
Jeff Reichert: In 2003 Tom Delay decide I didn't get as many seats out of the election from Texas as I wanted, so he went back down, and figured out that you could technically redistrict the state as many times as you like. So they had already redrawn the lines in 2001, he went back in 2003 to create a new partisan plan that would knock out seven senior Democratic lawmakers from Congress. He eventually succeeded.
Ted Simons: And we should mention that both parties, this is what Pete Wilson says, politics at its worst, he said, both parties have involved. They're both at fault.
Jeff Reichert: Both parties are very, very guilty of redistricting.
Ted Simons: In Arizona, we have both parties involved in the commission. You got two and two, and you find out they get together and they pick one as the chairman, it's somewhat convoluted, but the idea is when you got two and two, someone is going to have to agree with the other side to pick that last one, so you should have some sort of balance here. We've got balance here?
Ken Clark: We don't. Of the six criteria used for redistricting, one is called Communities of Interest. Long story short, it's -- it creates a huge loophole through which people can use to Gerrymander districts.
Ted Simons: Communities of interest meaning what, religious communities, ethnic communities new don't want to --
Ken Clark: It's never really defined. It's defined as who I do want to live next to, do I see myself as living in a downtown district, a farm area? And it's meant to be vague. But like I said, that's what allows people to Gerrymander.
Ted Simons: The idea you've got one party, and usually the party in control wants to stay in control, but you also have the minority party, which has its own interest, and in order to have any kind of say whatsoever, isn't it often the case the minority party stacks an area because at least they know they're going to get something, some representation at whatever state legislature they're going to.
Ken Clark: And I think many times they shoot themselves in the foot, whether the minority is a Republican or Democrat. Personally I'd rather live in a meritocracy. Whoever's best ideas win. That's not what we have when it's predetermined. And we've got to get away from that.
Ted Simons: This idea of gerrymandering, it's a pejorative, but is there anything good about it? Can minorities who may not be able to be represented anywhere at least have certain focus communities of interest here in Arizona, focused areas where they get their --
Jeff Reichert: I think racial gerrymandering overall has had a net positive effect on democracy, at least when it's done to create representation for minority communities. Obviously it has a flip side. Sometimes it's done to carve African-American and Latino communities up into many different pieces. But in as much as we can look to districts that were drawn to help that representations that reputation, we can look at our Congress and see our Congress is not a bunch of old white guys. That is because of racial gerrymandering.
Ted Simons: As far as Arizona is concerned, we're under some sort of judicial watch because of voting rights problems some 40 years ago. How does that play into what we're trying to do?
Ken Clark: We shouldn't eliminate that. We can't eliminate that. It's good we have minority, majority districts, but even outside of those, we still believe that you can get more than 10 competitive districts. It's still a possible thing for us.
Ted Simons: How do you do it?
Ken Clark: Well, you have people who are down there fighting for the concept of competition. We had only very few people down there last time. And they were -- their voices were drowned out by people trying to gerrymander districts.
Ted Simons: How do you make sure, again, my group, I'm in the minority, there's no one out there to represent me, there's a few people like me, but if you want -- the only way we can get representation is making sure we're all on the same -- how do you make sure that you're not gouging somebody else by getting everyone represented? How do you do that?
Jeff Reichert: There's no perfect system. There's no perfect plan which everybody is going to be happy. But I think we should embrace that and say that's part of what democracy is, sometimes you're on the losing end of the stick. You show up for the next election and try and win. Sometimes you're going to get a map you're not that happy with, or maybe you feel you ended up in a district that isn't the district you wanted to be N go to the hearings next time and testify and fight for it and struggle, and let's have the arguments out in the open, put all the politics on the table and have the discussion. That's -- it's the founding part of the -- how democracy works.
Ted Simons: Very quickly, screening of the film is tomorrow?
Jeff Reichert: Yes.
Ted Simons: In Tempe?
Jeff Reichert: At the Historical Society Museum.
Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.
Jeff Reichert: Thank you.