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Recarving The Congressional Pie

Refoel Pride

A new chapter of political intrigue is set to open as the reelected incumbents and newly elected freshmen take their places in the US House of Representatives for the 112th Congress: Congressional Redistricting. Mishpacha sampled opinions and perspectives of askanim in four key states with large Jewish populations around the country to learn the opportunities and the risks for the frum community and how can we make our voices heard.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

One of the chief reasons the US Constitution mandates a census every ten years is to determine the proper apportionment of congressional representatives to each state. While each state gets two senators automatically, US House seats are apportioned based on population. Following the tabulation of the 2010 census results, Congress will get to work on reapportioning the 435 representatives among the states based on the updated population figures. States with declining populations, such as New York and New Jersey will give up seats in Congress to those with increasing populations, such as Florida, Arizona, and Texas.

While the apportionment of seats will be carried out by the Congress, federal law leaves it to the states to draw the boundaries of each congressional district that sends a representative to Washington. This process will likely help the Republicans more than the Democrats.

“The sleeper story of the Republican wave this November was their picking up almost 700 seats in state legislatures across the nation,” says Howard Beigelman, deputy director of the Orthodox Union (OU) Institute for Public Affairs “Which US House seats are redrawn, combined, or lost are up to those legislatures that will help redraw district lines, unless the state has a nonpartisan redistricting commission.”

Republicans are now in firm control of 29 governorships. Twenty-five state legislatures are under GOP control, as opposed to just 14 for the Democrats (the rest are divided), giving the GOP a historic leg up in the redistricting process. “Republicans are in the best shape for the decennial line-drawing that they have been in since the modern era of redistricting began in the 1970s,” commented Tim Storey of the National Council of State Legislatures in a blog on the organization’s web page.

Thus, Republican victories in 2010 are likely to be cemented in place, both at the state and federal level, and redrawn congressional district boundaries will no doubt complicate future Democratic campaigns.

All of this will also have major ramifications for the 2012 presidential race. The makeup of the Electoral College is determined by each state’s congressional representation. Thus, a shift of congressional seats toward GOP-leaning states presages an uphill fight for an embattled Democratic president seeking reelection.

Of course, the presidential elections over the last two decades teach us, if nothing else, to expect the unexpected.

Once the reapportionment is complete, the battle begins in earnest at the state level. Political parties and interest groups slug it out over who gets slices from the expanding — or in some states, shrinking — congressional pie. So this coming year, states like Florida and Texas, with booming populations, will try to find elbow room for new House seats; others, like New York and New Jersey, will have to arrange a political game of musical chairs to determine who loses a seat.


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