SALEM, Ore. — On Monday night, Gov. Kate Brown (D-Ore.) signed off on the first congressional map in the nation to be implemented in the 2022 election cycle.
Oregon’s redistricting process is controlled by their Democrat-run state legislature — the map, which shores up vulnerable Democrat Reps. Peter DeFazio (OR-04) and Kurt Schrader (OR-05), was also initially slated to gerrymander the state’s new 6th district, gained as a result of the 2020 census, in favor of Democrats.
The end result would have been a map that would hand five out of six districts to Democrats — the current district boundaries only leave Democrats with two safe seats out of five.
However, after a walkout by Oregon Senate Republicans, Democrats made a minor concession by relocating Schrader to the 6th district, which still remains a solidly blue district in suburban Portland, with the 5th now hosting a largely competitive seat comprising the exurbs of Portland and Salem.
Oregon on Monday became the first state to redraw its congressional map for the next decade, passing a plan that creates four Democratic districts, a safe Republican seat and one potential battleground.
The new map marked the end of a bitter partisan standoff. State House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, gaveled the legislature into session on Monday morning, hours before a redistricting deadline, after a nearly weeklong delay caused by a Covid scare and a Republican boycott. The agreement: Republican state representatives returned, and in return Democrats did not muscle through a map that would have given them solid control of five of the state’s six districts.
The compromise map passed the state House on Monday afternoon in a 33-16 vote, and the state Senate concurred in an 18-6 vote. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill into law late Monday.
The independent commission appointed in Colorado, a state that will also be gaining a seat next year, has also finalized a map that will be sent to the state’s Supreme Court on Oct. 1 for approval. The proposed map draws all seven of Colorado’s incumbent representatives (4 Democrats, 3 Republicans) into fairly safe districts, while the new eighth district is a hypercompetitive seat extending north from the Denver suburbs.
Democrats are clearly on the offensive here — if a blue state with a congressional delegation as inconsequential as Oregon’s is willing to play hardball, then larger states like New York and Illinois are certainly going to attempt to draw out as many Republicans as they can by gerrymandering them into urban and suburban districts. For example, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York, whose district is largely comprised of Staten Island and some light-blue neighborhoods on the Hudson Riverfront in Brooklyn, can easily be drawn into hyper-Democratic areas like Park Slope, and Andy Harris, the sole Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, can easily have his deep-red Delmarva Peninsula-centric district drawn well into Baltimore.
Republicans, meanwhile, have to approach redistricting from a different angle — the defensive. What this means is that they’re going to have to cede some competitive ground to Democrats in order to shore up vulnerable Republicans. This seems to be what Republicans in Texas and Georgia have decided to do.
In Texas, whose first map was proposed Monday, Republicans seem to have opted to sacrifice their chances in the previously competitive 7th and 32nd districts, placing Democrat Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred, both of whom unseated GOP incumbents in 2018 and won reelection by narrow margins, into districts expected to go to Democrats by twenty or more points. In another effort to quell Democratic gains in currently competitive districts, they have also decided to draw the state’s 37th district, one of two that they gained from the census, to be a royal-blue Democratic stronghold centered in Austin and the surrounding suburbs.
In exchange for this, they get to gerrymander vulnerable Republicans like Michael McCaul, Chip Roy, Tony Gonzales, and Beth Van Duyne into districts that former President Donald Trump won by double-digits in 2020. Furthermore, they create a newly competitive seat in the form of the 15th district, placing Democrat Vicente Gonzalez into a hypercompetitive district that presents itself as even more of an opportunity for a GOP pickup than it currently is — the district, which stretches from the Mexican border to the San Antonio suburbs, gained some attention on the right after Gonzalez only won reelection by four percent in an unexpectedly competitive 2020 race against Republican Monica De La Cruz Hernandez.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Republicans have proposed a map that, in the wake of Democratic gains in 2018 and 2020, comes of as surprisingly modest. The map largely preserves Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop (despite the competitiveness of his seat, Bishop often tends to overperform in elections) and creates a new Democratic pack district in the Atlanta suburbs, securing freshman Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by delegating her to a blue district that will likely only trend bluer with time. This was done in exchange for two relatively minute GOP gains — Lucy McBath, a Democrat first elected to her suburban Atlanta district in 2018, will be drawn into a district that favors Republicans by double-digit margins; meanwhile, Barry Loudermilk, a Republican in what is currently a largely safe district, is drawn completely out of Fulton County, thus likely avoiding complications that may arise from the Peach State’s Atlanta-driven leftward trend.
In conclusion, there are two big take-aways from all of this: first, Republicans are probably going to be the big winners here when all is said and done — at least in the short term. They’re poised to gain in the House, but it’s going to have surprisingly little to do with redistricting if what we’re seeing now is any indication. Second, Democrats are acting exactly as we thought they would — Republicans aren’t. In a year where the GOP is poised to make huge gains in the House, one would have expected a concerted Republican effort to gain as much ground as possible. So far, they aren’t doing that. Instead, they’re largely trying to maximize what they already have.
However, most of this is far from final — so we’re going to have to watch as more states draft, debate, and ratify their maps and more events unfold.
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