Above: Cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale depicting a Massachusetts district created to favor incumbent supporters of Governor Elbridge Gerry, published in the Boston Gazette in 1812. Critics likened the shape of the district to a salamander and coined the term Gerry-mander, which stuck.
Last night I discussed with my daughters the President’s racist rhetoric insisting that four women in Congress “go back to their countries.” My 7-year-old was confused. “But this is their country,” she said, just as it is the country of her immigrant dad, although as a Norwegian we know he’s not the target. I once again felt at a loss to explain to my children a leader who stands against every principle we’ve taught them.
A Boston Globe headline succinctly summarized the president’s tactic: “Trump focuses on race, returning to his electoral strategy ahead of 2020;” and conservative George Conway makes the case in a powerful editorial that it’s now more than just politics -- our nation’s soul is at stake. What happens next? We are likely to see the continuation of a conscious strategy to inflame and race-bait, intended to cause a rift among Democrats and weaken moderate voices in both parties.
What can we do in response? I suggest starting here:
Double down on support for candidates who stand up for core values. Resources should flow to those who stand for their principles, especially when it takes courage. The New Leaders to Watch in Congress profiled in this newsletter are doing that every day. We particularly applaud the four Republican members of Congress -- including Brian Fitzpatrick, one of the New Leaders to Watch -- who joined House Democrats in voting to condemn the president’s racist comments.
Support organizations committed to ending gerrymandering. Gerrymandering has created the conditions for Congressional districts to skew to the extremes. The Supreme Court’s decision to allow partisan gerrymandering is “tragically wrong,” in the words of dissenting Justice Elena Kagan. Even Chief Justice Roberts agreed that extreme partisan gerrymandering was “incompatible with democratic principles,” but chose to leave it to the states and Congress to address that challenge.
Fixing gerrymandering can’t heal all our divides but a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows how deep Americans’ desire is for reform. Nearly two-thirds of respondents support ending gerrymandering, with equally high levels of support for term limits, automatic voter registration and making Election Day a national holiday.
With the Supreme Court unwilling to lead on gerrymandering, who can drive change? State legislatures, state courts, ballot initiatives, and Congress all have the power to end gerrymandering. We are actively engaged with organizations taking up the cause like RepresentUS and Forward Majority, along with Equal Citizens, whose POTUS1 project we are supporting to put presidential candidates’ positions on democracy reform on record.
Standing up to the attacks on our ideals requires all of us to stay awake and be part of building a system that all Americans can have faith in. Thanks to all who read this and commit to doing just that.
July 19, 2019
Leadership Success: New Leaders in Congress Take on Gerrymandering and Other Reforms
In 2018, Leadership Now sought to identify principled, pragmatic new candidates for Congress who aligned with Leadership Now’s four core principles. We sat down with 13 New Leaders to Watch in the last several months and came away inspired by their leadership and commitment. But we were also struck by the profound barriers they face to driving change, not least the constant demands of fundraising and the outdated structures of Congress. Read about three of the New Leaders here -- and we’ll profile all of them in the months ahead:
Colin Allred (TX-32) went to college on a football scholarship and played for the NFL before attending law school at Berkeley. He worked as a civil rights attorney and served in the General Counsel’s office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2018 he defeated a powerful incumbent in Northeast Dallas County, a Republican-leaning “purple” congressional district. Two-thirds of the bills he has sponsored or co-sponsored have bipartisan sponsorship. Rep. Allred’s priorities include health care and ending Citizens United. House leadership has tapped him to help lead the defense of key healthcare provisions such as drug price stabilization and protection for those with preexisting conditions. He was elected co-president of his freshman class in Congress, and joined the moderate New Democrats Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rep. Allred told GQ he’s been pleasantly surprised to find that when he talks to Republicans, their positions are not that far apart. “When we’re able to have frank conversations without leadership or the press nearby, we are probably 90 percent in agreement about what needs to be done.”
Angie Craig (MN-02) was raised in a trailer park and worked her way through college before becoming an executive at a major Minnesota manufacturer and a children’s cancer center. Rep. Craig defeated an incumbent to win her South Minneapolis seat in 2018, becoming the first openly LGBT member of Congress from Minnesota. Her priorities include healthcare, local schools, family farms, local water quality, and paycheck fairness. She is deeply concerned with democracy reform and restoring integrity to government, and sponsored a resolution that would prohibit members of Congress from serving on the boards of for-profit entities. She is a member of the moderate New Democrats caucus as well as the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and co-chairs the LGBT Equality Caucus.
Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) is a former CIA officer who upset the incumbent in her large central Virginia district. Rep. Spanberger graduated from the University of Virginia and earned an MBA from Purdue University and the GISMA Business School in Germany. Her priorities include campaign finance reform, healthcare - particularly prescription drug costs and preexisting conditions, climate action, rural broadband, and background checks for gun purchases. Rep. Spanberger co-sponsored HR 1 (a comprehensive democracy reform bill) and spoke out in support of campaign finance reform, and has proposed bipartisan livestock and rural broadband bills. She caucuses with the New Democrats, Blue Dogs and Problem Solvers, all moderate groups.
Bipartisanship is natural to Rep. Spanberger. She told the Washington Post, “For so many of us with national security backgrounds, bringing our history of public service without a partisan lens is important - and it’s a skill set. We served the mission under Republican and Democratic presidents.”
Leadership Failure: A Split Supreme Court Rules Gerrymandering Isn’t Their Problem
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to allow gerrymandering to continue marks a critical juncture in the fight for nonpartisan electoral maps: we cannot rely on the federal courts to right this wrong. The focus must be on Congress, in state courts and legislatures, and with ballot initiatives.
As noted in the SCOTUS blog: “Roberts acknowledged that “[e]xcessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust. But just because courts can’t review partisan-gerrymandering claims, he continued, does not mean that there are no other checks on the problem: Both the states and Congress can take action – for example, by establishing independent redistricting commissions to draw maps.”
Both Republican and Democratic states are gerrymandered. Recent gerrymanders skew Republican. FiveThirtyEight explains partisan skew in this infographic. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball provides an up-to-date state of play on the possible implications of gerrymandering when the next maps are drawn based on the 2020 census.
Keeping You Smart
Leadership Now in the media: The HBS Alumni Magazine’s June cover story profiles Daniella and our collective endeavor; and founding member Patrick McGinnis spoke with Daniella about our work and why we do it on a recent episode of his popular Fomo Sapiens podcast.
More in Common’s Perception Gap study finds that Americans are becoming more negative about the party or views they disfavor, and both sides overestimate the extremism of the other side. The bad news: news consumption and being highly educated only exacerbate the trend. The good news: there is more opportunity for middle ground than we may think, and having friends with differing political viewpoints mitigates the perception gap. Scientific American’s Why Losing Our Newspapers Is Breaking Our Politics offers additional insight into overcoming our real and perceived political divides.
Professor Larry Lessig, a member of Leadership Now’s Academic Advisory Group, writes in a Washington Post opinion that perhaps John Roberts was right to put Congress on the hook to fix gerrymandering.
We recently launched our first Democracy Investment Portfolio of organizations, initiatives, and members of Congress poised to have a real impact in achieving the reforms our democracy needs. We look forward to deepening our relationships with these change-makers through financial support and active engagement of our membership in advancing our collective priorities.
Members are staying smart with briefings from experts and democracy entrepreneurs. On a recent briefing call with Edelman, members reviewed new data showing remarkable shifts in the institutions the public trusts, most notably away from government and towards employers. The Edelman 2019 Trust Barometer finds two-thirds of respondents expect their employers will “take action on societal issues,” indicative of increasing expectations of corporations and business leaders to engage in social and political issues.
Our Jeffersonian democracy dinners continue. In Portland, Maine an extraordinary group of local political leaders and democracy reformers, business executives and civic leaders discussed lessons for the nation from Maine’s Ranked Choice Voting elections reform and the state’s history of independent-minded leaders. In New York, thought leaders and executives from media, finance and retail discussed state-level strategies to fight gerrymandering.
Finally, we’re actively planning for our Third Annual Member Meeting in Washington, D.C. in September.