Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is not urging her colleagues to launch congressional remapping offensives to retaliate against GOP off-year redistricting drives.
“No, I’m not raising it at all,’’ she told me. But after losing seats in Texas last November because of GOP mapmaking, some of her Democratic members, notably Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chief Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), don’t want to sit around while the GOP makes a run in Georgia. Republicans earlier tried and failed to remap Colorado. “What did they think was going to happen here?’’ Emanuel told me.
Pelosi has a lot of sensibilities to juggle on the issue. Anything she says may well reverberate to California, where GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is promoting his plan to have retired judges, not legislators, draw the map. Schwarzenegger contends judges would depoliticize a process consistently yielding safe GOP and Democratic seats.
Through the nation’s history, it used to be that redistricting would happen once a decade, in the year after the census. But, under the current GOP leadership, that’s been changing. With the controversial support of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), lawmakers in Austin redrew district lines, and, as a result, the GOP gained seats. Now Georgia state legislators don’t want to wait for the 2010 census and are pushing a new map.
“I don’t like midterm elections,’’ Pelosi said. “No, I’m not raising it at all.”
“It is up to the states to decide how they want to be represented,’’ she told me. “I’m not encouraging anybody to redraw the lines. But I do respect the right of a state to decide what their representation is in Congress. The problem we have in Texas is that it is in criminal court, it is in the civil court and it is in the court on the constitutionality of it, and that’s just not right,’’ she said.
On paper, Illinois seems an ideal target for Democratic retaliation. The governor and majorities in the state are all Democratic. It could be a home-state showdown between Emanuel and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
Emanuel is encouraging Democrats to raise the pain threshold for Republicans if they go after more state maps. Emanuel huddled with all but one of the Illinois House Democrats on Tuesday night in the office of Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) to discuss strategy. They agreed that they loved Emanuel and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is also promoting an aggressive anti-remapping stance.
But at the meeting, none could see how any plan could be executed, given that it is not on the agenda of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a former House Democrat who needs Hastert’s help on a variety of things, Mayor Richard Daley and state House Speaker and state Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan. But Emanuel has a point to make here.
Emanuel’s goal is not to remap Illinois, Georgia or any other state. His objective is to put pressure on Hastert to get the Republicans to cut out this middecade mapmaking business.
“But you can’t say it’s bad for Illinois and promote Georgia and Texas and Colorado,’’ Emanuel said. “The hypocrisy. We say it is bad for the institution … and Hastert has some responsibility to not put party above the institution.’’
Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org