Outsource Redistricting? Why not?

Updated: In the comments, Common Cause Georgia requested I link to their Georgia organization, rather than the national one. Link fixed.

Jim Walls, publisher of the  investigative website Atlanta Unfiltered reported “discussions” that the Georgia Legislature may hire Troutman Sanders Strategies to draw help create the new district maps required (by law) every 10 years. Nobody’s actually said so, but here’s the money quote:

Hiring Troutman Sanders Strategies has not been announced but may already have been decided.

I think it is, but I haven’t got a final roundup on it so I don’t know,” said House Reapportionment Chairman Roger Lane (R-Darien).

This potential change has the folks over at Common Cause in a swivet. “Georgia for Sale?” they ask in a panicked blog post about the issue. Nothing scares the goo-goos* like lobbyists getting a contract. But I have to ask: why would anyone think this is somehow a bad idea?

There have been attempts to create independent redistricting bodies before -former Governor Perdue tried in 2007 -his bill never made it out of committee. Another attempt in 2008 failed as well. Try as you might, you’ll never ‘take the politics out of politics’ and redistricting is the most nakedly partisan of all political processes.

The redistricting process generally follows this script: With new data, everybody and his brother starts drawing maps, then they fight about them and when everybody is really mad, they settle on the set of maps that protects the most incumbents and gives the majority party the best chance at increasing their majority. Then everybody goes to court and Judges draw the real maps, which shouldn’t deviate too much (used to be +/-5%, but Cox v. Larios set it at +/-1%) in population from one district to the next and should make some attempt to keep cities and counties and “communities of interest” in the same districts. Also, they can’t reduce the number of African Americans in a district (where they make up a majority of the population of that district)  It’s the “going to court” part that gets expensive, and most legislators would like to avoid that. Sure they want maps that provide incumbent protection, but it has to be legally defensible incumbent protection.

Well, who better to prepare for redistricting litigation than a lobbying firm that is also one of the premiere law firms in the country? This is no knock against the Legislative Reapportionment Services office -a service of the well-respected Carl Vinson Institute, but if there’s a reasonable chance you might have to litigate your maps, hiring legal experts on the front end makes sense.

Besides, it’s not like there’s a bunch of law students who are going to draw district maps for free, is it?

Oh.

Well, it’s not like their Professor, Nathaniel Persily, knows much about Georgia redistricting, is it?

Oh.

But at least Troutman Sanders Strategies hasn’t hired any former legislators recently, because the timing of that might look a little odd.

Oh.

There’s no telling how much money the last legal fight over Georgia’s redistricting cost. It took half a decade and was messy, public and expensive. But cheer up! Maybe this time it will only be expensive.

*A slang term for proponents of “good government.” Used here affectionately.

37 comments

  1. Tiberius says:

    There are some talented people down at the Capitol that have the time, the means and equipment and the knowledge to do the work. And they are already on the state payroll.

  2. Samuel says:

    Two problems here:

    1. Isn’t that bunch down at T.S. (spell your own appropriate words for T.S.) all white Republicans, which creates a “fairness issue.” If it were up to T.S. – John Lewis’ & David Scott’s district’s would suddenly be melded into Cobb, Paulding & Haralson Counties.

    2. If T.S. gets to have all the fun and get paid (very well) for it; what will all the Gold Dome politicos do for fun? Plus, even with all the legal “thieveries” (hey, if Palin can invent words, so can I) under the Gold Dome; don’t the elected thieves bill at a lesser rate than the lawyers at T.S.?

  3. georgiahack says:

    How much ya wanna bet that Troutman Sanders is the go to firm when the maps inevitably go to court.??

  4. Tiberius says:

    Is Ann Lewis with Troutman Sander? I can never remember. If so, it may be true. If not, not gonna happen.

  5. Congressional and legislative redistricting gets most of the attention – but consider that every county commission, school board and city council that isn’t elected at large (and even some that are from districts) also needs to be redistricted.

    I’m sure Jerry Keen or whoever at Troutman would love to get their hands on the Congressional map. Schley county commission districts on the other hand probably bore these high powered lobbyists. I would guess they’d still have a redistricting department somewhere to handle that?

  6. Jane says:

    Redistricting is very political it should not be given over to people who are unelected. Plus there are plenty of skilled data people, like myself, in the party that we do not need the help of people who are politically unreliable especially firms or individuals with corporate rather than political interests.

    M Seigle

  7. CommonCauseGA says:

    First things first,- totally had to look up what “swivet” meant. We’ve broken out in a sweat before, sure, but never that variant of sweat.

    Secondly, thanks for enabling our anxiety!

    Our major concerns are variations of what Tiberius and fishtail said. One: we already pay taxes for our elected officials to do this service, and if they wnat to outsource, the folks at Carl Vinson would likely be glad to continue their proud tradition at no extra cost, and would probaly even prefer to operate independently.

    and if the maps go to court, it’s not like Georgians wouldn’t have to pay Troutman Sanders even MORE money to defend them. T.S. arguably even has an incentive to produce a questionable, but ultimately defensible map, for just that kind of fee maximization.

    and that hooks into the other major concern: the other private interests at play. maybe “georgia for sale” was not he best title for our blog post, but i think some have already used things like “Representative X of Georgia’s Coca-Cola (TM?) district”.

    Private interests may very well try to influence the process as much as they can for their ends, not Georgians’.

    I better stop, because I’m feeling a little swivet running down my neck…

  8. Spacey G says:

    What’s bad is when libs trot out phrases in their opposition stances such as *corporate overlords.* I’m all for yammering on and on and on about the heavy hand of Trout Fishing and Flounders around this town, but when Common Cause writes copy that includes *corporate overlords* I start rolling eyeballs.

  9. CommonCauseGA says:

    most importantly, we are truly non/bi/omni -partisan.
    Common Cause Georgia has taken a distinct path that is not as aligned with the national organization as one would assume. we’d even prefer you link to our state’s work on redistricting http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4849065 rather than the natinoal org.’s work.
    and as far as corporate overlords go, what? too 1980’s? maybe you’re right, the image of overlords seems to have a visual and obvious taskmaster in it, while what we’re looking at here is a bunch of people in suits paying for enormous shares of bread and butter for other people in suits. what’s a better name for this image/metaphor?

  10. CommonCauseGA says:

    but, we do need to be clear about what we intend when we use labels like ” corporate interests”, and other terms like “lobbyists” when we are in a swivet. it is not the existence of the organization or individual, or the mere pursuit of self-interest- that is expected and a sign of life.
    but it is the power they are given by public servants based on the size of their checkbook. we prefer our public servants to enact the policy they believe will best serve the public, not themselves or donors or sponsors.

  11. Thanks for stopping by Common Cause GA. I fixed the link to y’all rather than the organization of hippie-dippie godless lib’ruls at national.

    “Swivet” means a state of extreme panic or discomposure, and was all I could think of when I saw the “Georgia for Sale?” headline.

    I’m working from memory here, and it’s more than a bit rusty, but didn’t the Legislative Redistricting office testify that they couldn’t draw maps with less than a 5% variation -until the court appointed Dr. Persily, who came up with maps of +/-1%? My point being that all human beings are subject to political pressure, even the good folks at the CVIOG.

    So if TSS can avoid some lengthy, drawn-out litigation, what’s wrong with that? I mean, SOMEbody’s got to be the overlords, right?

  12. DoubleDawg3 says:

    What does it really matter if Troutman Sanders draws the maps — it’s not like the Committees actually sit there with the map drawing programs and come up with “their” maps – it’s done by some intelligent people that know how to make it work. Chris did, or could have done, this for the Democratic Party, while Bryan Tyson has been a go to guy for the GOP since Westmoreland/Richardson/Keens leadership days of the House Republican caucus.

    What I don’t know is if this means that the legislature is cutting out Strickland, Brockington and Lewis (Anne Lewis, Frank Strickland and Bryan Tyson’s firm) – who seem to have done a good job getting the old maps overturned and the current ones in place – in favor of Troutman Sanders, or if SBL will be assisting TS with the legal work, which would give you the best of both worlds (a small firm with Republican credentials that has experience drawing maps, matched up with a very large firm that has some of the best litigators and an “appearance” at least, of political neutrality).

  13. CommonCauseGA says:

    Thanks for changing the link, Mike. We really are proud to be distinctly balanced in our relationship to political parties.

    And perhaps next time, our blog posts will have less swivet-ness to them. (altho the question mark at the end was meant to be a sign of fair inquiry, not like the swivet-full exclamation point!)

    As for the redistricting court battle testimony, give me a figurative minute to get that info. but, to my understanding, the CVI has not been free from political, let’s say, collaboration. and that may have affected their position. perhaps, tho, they could become more neutral brokers.

    but the idea behind independent redistricting is to have not overlords, but politically neutral or balanced peers, drawing districts. it is the citizens’ representation, and while you cannot take politics out of politics, you can minimize the power of parties and private interests in politics, and you can minimize the role of politics in policy.

    as to whether Troutman Sanders can be an impartial broker? i guess that depends on their marching orders from those that hire them. as to whether they can avoid or win a lawsuit? sure, but a truly impartial and skilled broker would create maps that would both avoid lawsuits and be perfectly defensible in the event of one. hiring TS may in fact be an indication that the maps will be suitworthy.

    • Actually, I had it backwards. The head of GA Legislative Redistricting office testified that it WOULD be possible to draw contiguous, compact, districts with near-zero population differences and not many split counties or precincts. The State (controlled by Dems at the time) ignored her testimony and argued for their maps. (See Charles Bullock’s article “From Ashcroft to Larios” http://cbullock.myweb.uga.edu/Ashcroft.pdf )
      Remember, some folks don’t want to take the politics out of politics!

  14. macho says:

    Don’t forget, the founder of Troutman Sanders Strategies, Pete Robinson, put his Capitol lobbying on hold while joining Deal’s transition team. Robinson will also be chairing Deal’s Judicial Nominating Committee.

    I hope they don’t cut out Strickland, Lewis and Tyson. They did a great job working with Westmorland and are as responsible as anyone, if not more, for the GOP legislative takeover.

  15. Bill30097 says:

    Common Cause is bi-partisan – The Democrat Party, The Communist Party, and the Green Party. I have been hearing that Common Crap for over 40 years and eah time I still need toilet pper to clean it up. They are “nonpartisan” like NPR is “fair”. BS

    • macho says:

      I honestly don’t get the sense that Common Cause is some liberal group or self-serving organization like say a Georgia Watch. GA Watch is simply an arm of the trial lawyers and jumps on any liberal issue out there, unless it benefits the trial lawyers.

      Common Cause’s mission is pretty tight in that they fight for more transparency and ethics and less conflicts of interest. I don’t usually agree with Common Cause, as I think most issues in politics stem from voter apathy.

      • CommonCauseGA says:

        We appreciate that, macho. We work with those who want to achieve the highest level of ethics and transparency in government. For instance, last year, we honored Rep. Wendell Willard, a true champion of ethics reform. But you’re also right that voter apathy could be the biggest challenge. Voter education is a core mission of ours, and we do our best. But it is a monumental task.

  16. PARpat says:

    No matter who ultimately decides on redistricting, it will contain self interests including Common Cause or the professionals at the Vinson Institute. Everyone involved believes what they are doing is in the “best interest” of the citizens of Georgia.
    No one , including the citizens themselves, actually know what is in their best interests as illustrated by the quote from Kevin Williamson in the National Review, “They’ll say they want opera broadcasts and educational programming and organic chard and more foreign news in the newspaper, but in real life their revealed preferences are pretty much classic rock, fantasy-football stats, and those heinous seven-layer burritos from Taco Bell.”

  17. SallyForth says:

    What the #*&#??? OUTSOURCE redistricting? What’s next, outsource voting – just let the big lobbying law firms vote for us too? The way the Republicans are running Georgia, they might as well go ahead and outsource their Legislative votes to the lobbyists too and let them push the red or green buttons. The Repubs are becoming figure-heads, spending tax dollars to pay lobbyists to run our government – instead of the people we elected to do so.

  18. Charlie says:

    If we’re going to continue to make a mockery of ethics laws, why not continue to make a mockery of ex-reps not being able to lobby right after they leave office? And what better way to do it than to pay a big retainer to the guy that made a mockery out of determining who was Christian enough to be a Republican during his tenure in the House.

    It all seems quite fitting when you think about it.

  19. Quaker says:

    It would be interesting to calculate the cost of this “outsourcing”. The professional and dedicated employees who have been doing the work for years in the Legislative Reapportionment Office do so on state level salaries. The newest Troutman associate makes more than the senior most attorney in the employ of the legislature. Someone is going to have to pay for that.

  20. Jane says:

    They might do the work for free if they could turn around and charge their corporate clients. Knocking off an unfreindly politician and saving a friendly one could be worth a lot of money to Georgia Power/Coke/Delta/ etz.

Comments are closed.