Who’s Really Behind These Capitol Coups?

By Peter Galuszka

Coup II seems well underway among Virginia’s Republican legislators.

According to The Washington Post, state-level Republicans in the Old Dominion and several other states including Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania are trying to redistrict voting more along the boundaries of federal congressional districts that typically are more heavily lopsided to one party or another. All of the states went for Barack Obama in 2012 but Republicans control state legislatures.

The Post reports that had Virginia had such a voting district system, along with a provision that would apportion electoral college votes along congressional district lines, then Obama would have won only four instead of all 13 of the state’s electoral votes.

Virginia’s Republicans are pushing for switching to a congressional district system as Nebraska and Maine have already done. A supporter, State Sen. Charles W. Carrico, a Republican from Grayson County, says that going with congressional district vote counting protects voters in less densely populated rural areas.

A few problems with that. First, it is a sneaky way to slow the impact of newcomers to Virginia as non-Virginians who tend to be more diverse in race and background move to the state. Their political concerns are not necessarily maintaining the status quo or keeping money flowing to rural areas that voters from rural areas worry about. In other words, it’s a backdoor scheme to slow the state’s inevitable change from red to purple to blue.

Another issue is why this is coming up now, other than the fact that Obama and Democrats trounced Republicans in November. A redistricting plan had been decided upon two years ago. Republicans like John Watkins and Tommy Norment won national derision this week for their covert and heavy-handed way of pushing redistricting plans through the evenly-divided Senate when civil rights leader Henry Marsh happened to be spending Martin Luther King Jr. Day attending Obama’s inauguration.

Their cheesy ploy made the Alpha Dog section of The Colbert Report.

There may be something far more serious afoot — or off the foot — if a shoe drops. One has to wonder if the Republican geniuses in the Virginia State Senate thought these ploys up all by themselves while Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell jumps for cover crying like Sgt. Schultz in TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes,” “I know nothing.”

Could that next shoe have something to do with the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council, the national network of conservatives funded by the Koch Brothers and various corporations to push self-serving laws nationwide via state legislatures?

ALEC are the people who brought you the “Stand Your Ground” firearm defense law that figured in a racial shooting in Florida last year. Public outcry shamed many big companies into pulling out from ALEC.

And guess what other state ALEC played a role in redistricting? The Badger State, which was been a hotbed last year for all kinds of right-wing flash points such as Voter ID laws and bashing public employee unions.

Reports from Wisconsin link ALEC to the ID laws and possibly as well to a controversial redistricting. What about the other states?

I personally have no direct evidence, at least yet, about ALEC and the current coups in Virginia State Capitol, but they may pop up. Plenty of Virginia legislators have past ties to ALEC, including House Speaker William J. Howell.

And what is McDonnell’s role in this, exactly? He seems being set up once again, just as he was last year with the transvaginal ultrasound business to blunt abortions. Now, instead of giving McDonnell some kind of legacy with his transportation plan, The Republican leaders seem to be following someone else’s script as part of a national coup to keep Democrats from pulling off a 2012-style victory again.

Why aren’t they being open and honest about it?

11 Responses to Who’s Really Behind These Capitol Coups?

  1. too many questions Peter! The answer is simple. The GOP cannot stand the idea of not being in charge of the Country and the States and they’ll do whatever it takes to gain control.

    Don’t let McDonnell off so easy… he’s part and parcel of the GOP approach to governance. In this case he has, at this point in time, a ore selfish agenda -his own legacy – but if it were not for the timing – he’d be in there with the rest of them doing their thing.

    I’m not convinced at all that the GOP will fail at this. They are truly desperate right now and if this approach to electoral votes is Constitutional and it appears to be since both Maine and Nebraska already do it – we should expect to see it happen.

    Not sure what the country will look like with the GOP in charge of everything but I bet two things:

    1. – it won’t be fun and it won’t make much sense

    2. – it may well spur independents to confront the reality that
    the GOP is really unfit the govern and in the end the GOP becomes a
    permanent minority party – but that’s a bit downstream of where we are right now.

  2. Good article, other than your obsession with the Koch Brothers.

    1. The redistricting scam was pretty sad to see. While the Dems shamelessly gerrymandered the state senate districts they stayed roughly within the very broad rules for squelching Democracy. The Republicans were coloring outside the lines when they passed a redistricting bill that was at odds with at least the intent (if not the letter) of the Virginia Constitution and would not have passed but for the absence of Sen. Marsh. The Democrats’ redistricting was slimy. The Republicans’ redistricting was slimy and cheap.

    2. The allocation of presidential electoral votes to congressional districts may be a good idea. In 2012 Obama won 51.2% of Virginia’s popular vote while Romney received the ironic percentage of just over 47%. Given that, why should ALL of Virginia’s electoral votes go to Obama? The Republican approach to this is flawed (who could have guessed?). They want each Congressional district to gets its own electoral vote and then award the two senate votes to whichever candidate wins the most counties. At least, that’s my recollection. I think awarding the 2 senate votes to whoever wins the statewide popular vote would be a lot more reasonable. That proposal would have given Obama 6 electoral votes and Romney 7 electoral votes. Yes, that is at odds with the popular vote. However, not nearly as much at odds as giving all 13 electoral college votes to Obama and pretending that the 47% doesn’t exist.

    The bigger issue in this idea is the possibility of no candidate getting a majority of electoral votes. Remember the election of 1992? Ross Perot got just under 19% of the popular vote but none of the electoral college votes. Bill Clinton won that election with 43% of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral college votes. What happens if all the states split the electoral college votes by congressional district and Clinton only gets 43% of the electoral college votes? Well, the House of Representatives elects the President and the Senate elects the Vice President. However, in a bizarre twist, each state delegation in the House gets one vote. Vermont has one representative in the US House of Representatives. In the fall of 1992 that representative was a Republican. However, Vermont voted for Clinton. If Vermont’s Republican representative in the house votes for Bush, that’s one less state for Clinton and one more for Bush. South Carolina could have flipped the other way – it voted for Bush but Democrats had a 4 – 2 advantage over Republicans in South Carolina’s US House of Representative delegation.

    What amazes me is that the method of allocating presidential electoral votes is not described in the Virginia Constitution. If it were, the Republicans would have to take this matter to the ballot and let every Virginian vote on it.

    Shouldn’t something like this be in the Virginia Constitution?

  3. As much as I dislike the efforts to count electoral votes by Congressional district, I cannot say it is wrong.

    Perhaps it should be in the Va. Constitution and/or it should be approved by voters.

    Somewhat related to this is the idea that the Va GA would appoint our Senators rather than popular vote.

    I find this fascinating.

    Pretend you are a founding father and want to institute the “right” way for representative govt to work.

    Could you really say that this path is wrong?

    We’re all getting a history lesson here, eh?

  4. Why the ALEC conspiracy theory when it makes perfect sense for the Republican National Committee to be behind the effort on the electoral college? This is not a new argument for the losing party to raise, and it forgets all about it the next time it comes out ahead under the winner-take-all rule. In fact, it is not a new argument at all. This idea long predates ALEC. I’m one who remains happy with the electoral college as designed. We don’t have a national election, we have 50 state elections. Why would we want to make it 435 congressional district elections? Man, I’d hate to be in a swing congressional district — talk about micro targeting.

    As to the re-map in the State Senate, again, why do you need to point to some out-of-state corporate cabal when the 20 GOP state senators are perfectly capable of acting in their own self interest. The taxpayers have provided these fancy redistricting and GIS databases in just about every state capitol and I suspect any legislator with time on his or her hands can fire them up and start plotting new maps.

  5. What Larry Sabato has pointed out is that with the Congressional District, you could easily have a candidate win the state popular vote by a good margin and still lose because of the rural Congressional districts.

    I’d go for this. First – an objective computer-generated re-districting. No gerrymandering – ever again.

    2nd – if the popular vote is within 1%, then allocate by Congressional District and give 2 votes to the winner of the popular vote.

    • And what do you have today? 47% of Virginians vote for Romney and their votes are totally discarded as all 13 electoral votes go to Obama.

      Maybe the present plan is flawed but “winner take all” is flawed as well.

  6. I’ve never liked winner-take-all but I also don’t like someone winning the election will less popular votes than the loser.

    but I also dislike voter suppression and the Florida chad debacle and most of all – gerrymandering.

    we should do a trade.

    1. – permanent abolition of gerrmandering
    2. – online, mail, and advanced voting for everyone that wants to vote that way.

    The GOP is desperate. This is a last ditch effort to have a white rural minority decide elections.

    take away gerrymandering and voter suppression and the GOP is toast.

  7. Interesting that you mention voter suppression (which many assume is racial) and gerrymandering in the same sentence. The worst sins of gerrymandering in modern times have been committed in the name of the Voting Rights Act, drawing tortured districts to create minority majority or minority influence districts. Do that, and the surrounding districts become more Republican like magic.

    Imagine — the easiest way to further dilute Republican power would be to REPEAL the Voting Rights Act.

    But that is the best reason to reject the idea of electoral votes based on congressional districts. The state lines are drawn and beyond gerrymandering, but not the district lines.

  8. Interesting that you mention voter suppression (which many assume is racial) and gerrymandering in the same sentence. The worst sins of gerrymandering in modern times have been committed in the name of the Voting Rights Act, drawing tortured districts to create minority majority or minority influence districts. Do that, and the surrounding districts become more Republican like magic.

    Imagine — the easiest way to further dilute Republican power would be to REPEAL the Voting Rights Act.

    But that is the best reason to reject the idea of electoral votes based on congressional districts. The state lines are drawn and beyond gerrymandering, but not the district lines.

  9. yeah… the voting rights act did not initially require drawing boundaries to give minorities majority districts.

    It was more in response to some pretty serious “suppression” of minority voters covering a wider variety of abuses.

    but who is to say necessarily that grouping minorities into one district leaving heavy GOP districts was had more than one motivation?

    for the record – I do not care for any efforts to suppress votes – period.

    I think voting should be super easy and give people as many different convenient ways to do it as possible.

    I do not care for gerrymandering no matter how it is done for any purpose by any party.

    Neither of these two things were what the founding fathers had in mind when they said “one man one vote”.

    a software algorithm can be drawn to equalize area across the state automatically.

    It can have other options to optimize boundaries to apportion cities in a reasonable way but you don’t need human hands directly on the boundary drawing.

    we’ve let both parties in various different ways and different times pervert the very basis of our representative governance – and we have the temerity to go overseas and “teach” other countries how to “build ” their nations.

  10. While I can clearly see the point of equity, every single election for anything whatsoever, all the way down to HOA and PTA elections, is majority rules.
    Isn’t that the entire point? The top vote getter wins?

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