Is This the Year for a Redistricting Revolution?

The Atlantic | June 10, 2019

LOS ANGELES—Barack Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger agree: Neither thinks Donald Trump has any business being anywhere near the White House, but the main political issue they’re going to focus on for the next two years is redistricting reform.

The clock is ticking. The 2020 census, and the nationwide 2021 redistricting right after, are around the corner. Deadlines for ballot initiatives and legislation are already on the horizon for some states to change their procedures before then. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court could soon take up a case that would gut most of the efforts at redistricting reform that have, over the past 10 years, changed how states draw the maps that determine who runs where for Congress and their own legislatures.

To hear the redistricting-reform advocates tell it, democracy is on the line. But, they say, the attention to the issue that’s exploded since the 2016 election came at the perfect moment to tap into the anger at a broken system and fundamentally change how the country works.

“The people became more and more frustrated. They decided that the system was fixed, there’s nothing they can do about it. So they look for outsiders to save them—outsiders like myself, or like Trump, or like [Representative Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez,” Schwarzenegger said at an event at the University of Southern California last Thursday. “But unless outsiders are willing to take on gerrymandering and truly fight the establishment, the people will find no salvation.”

Standing in a conference hall, with complicated chandeliers and the flag of every state that has passed an independent redistricting commission framing the stage, Schwarzenegger unveiled his latest move in the wonky fight that has oddly become a decade-long obsession for him since changing the California laws while he was governor: the creation of an organization he’s calling the Fair Maps Incubator, run out of the Schwarzenegger Institute on campus.

Schwarzenegger has eagerly been deploying his celebrity to call attention to the topic for years. Now he says he wants to accelerate the fight, bringing together those who’ve won nonpartisan redistricting ballot initiatives to create an ongoing nexus of advice, information, and connections for people in other states putting together their own campaigns.

The ballot initiatives passed in November in Colorado, Utah, Missouri, and Michigan put one-third of all congressional districts under independent redistricting. Now, with movements to create independent commissions in Virginia and, more distantly, South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, and New Jersey, Schwarzenegger announced from the stage, his goal for 2020 is to get two-thirds of all House seats drawn by independent commissions.

In a conversation afterward, Schwarzenegger acknowledged that this probably wasn’t possible. But he kept comparing his crusade to when he started bodybuilding. It, too, was an obsession of out-there enthusiasts, but ended up going more mainstream, and eventually laid the path for him to become a multimillionaire Hollywood icon and a governor for seven years.

Realistically, Schwarzenegger said, he’s hoping for movement in four to six states over the next two years. “I shoot for the stars. It’s always easier to be short, and by accident go further. That’s not going to happen,” he said.

At the end of last year, Obama announced that he was folding his Organizing for Action group into the National Democratic Redistricting Committee(NDRC), chaired by his former attorney general, Eric Holder. In doing so, he blamed gerrymandering for the lack of action on everything from climate change to immigration reform. Schwarzenegger agrees. If there were more competitive House districts, he said, members of Congress might actually feel compelled to compromise and deliver for the voters, instead of retreating into their partisan corners.

Look at the shutdown standoff, Schwarzenegger said. It’s become wall versus no wall, without anyone talking about the Dreamers or border patrol, let alone anything like comprehensive immigration reform. The politicians don’t move for close to a month while workers don’t get paid.

“How stupid of a dialogue is that? How do they get away with this crap?” he said. “Because they get reelected.”

View Original Publication: The Atlantic