Yesterday, the Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow to redistricting reform. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declared that the federal courts are not the place to remedy the problems caused by gerrymandering. The conservative Justices declared that it’s a political problem that requires a political solution. Justice Elena Kagen delivered a passionate dissent saying, “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government.”
So where does that leave proponents of redistricting reform? Right where they’ve been. If Democrats really want to change the system, they’re going to have to win control of the legislature first. To do that, they need to build a bigger tent.
Over the past decade, as polarization has shaped our politics, conservative Democrats have basically become extinct and moderate ones are an endangered species. Some activists in the party have cheered the shift, believing that a more homogenous party will move the country left. It hasn’t worked out so well.
Instead, access to abortion is at risk. The tax code has shifted significantly to benefit the wealthiest Americans. Our public schools and universities have been cut. The Affordable Care Act, while surviving, has been under attack since its inception. Voting rights are under assault in states across the nation. And, yes, gerrymandered districts are protecting Republican majorities.
Democrats need to compete in those gerrymandered districts and they’re going to need to find candidates who appeal to more conservative voters. They don’t have to abandon core principles, but they do need to drop the litmus tests. Voters are less ideological than the interests groups who are shaping both parties. For instance, even people who call themselves pro-life believe that Roe v. Wade should stay intact. People who decry the government giving away too much to poor people believe in expanding Medicaid, especially if it will save rural hospitals. And ending gerrymandering has broad public support because nobody wants rigged elections.
Democrats need candidates who say, “I don’t agree with everything Democrats support, but I’m not willing to continue to watch our universities get thrown into chaos and our public schools get short-changed.” They can support increases in the minimum wage and infrastructure projects for rural North Carolina while avoiding firm stands on divisive social issues.
Democrats can wait for the state courts and hope they’ll intervene in redistricting or they can try to win in places they’ve lost. Democrats in more progressive areas need to understand that, to govern, they need help from people who may only agree with them half the time. However, half the time is better than none of the time and being part of the Democratic caucus is better than being part of the Republican caucus.