Redistricting Rules From Both Sides Of The Aisle

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Guests

Mara Liasson, national political correspondent, NPR
Rob Gleason, head of the Republican party, Pennsylvania
Jim Burn, head of the Democratic party, Pennsylvania

Now that the Census numbers have come out, some states have won seats, and some have lost a few. Pennsylvania Democratic and Republican leaders talk about the rules of redistricting, and which party might benefit from the new numbers.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The president goes four for five in congressional extra innings, Republicans cheer reapportionment, and a fiery farewell from Arlen Specter. It's Wednesday and time for...

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Cannibalism.

CONAN: On a Donner Party edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, Im reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, youre no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You dont have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: This week, winners and losers among the lame ducks. Don't ask, don't tell becomes history. START gets going. The DREAM Act dies. Mea culpas from Joe Manchin and Haley Barbour. And a closing argument from outgoing Senator Arlen Specter.

Later in the hour, 18 states traded 12 congressional seats yesterday when the U.S. Census Bureau released its new reapportionment numbers. We'll tell you who won and who lost. Plus, we'll talk with party leaders in Pennsylvania about the process of redistricting.

Later in the program, reports from the front line of the economy this holiday season. Retailers, what's moving in your store? Email us, talk@npr.org.

Political Junkie Ken Rudin is on vacation, perfecting his eggnog recipe. So we've asked NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson to join in. She's here with us in Studio 3A. And Mara, always nice to have you with us.

MARA LIASSON: Nice to be here. Can't say I'll be as funny.

CONAN: Or maybe not as annoying.

LIASSON: You said it. I didn't.

CONAN: We want to hear from callers as well. It's been a busy week from Congress. We heard an emotional farewell from Senator Specter yesterday, more on that in a bit. But call and tell us who you're going to miss when the new Congress resumes, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Mara, I guess we have to start with don't ask, don't tell.

LIASSON: Big, big victory for the president, surprising. It kind of -it's number four out of six things in the lame duck that he got, six big things. Nobody thought that he was going to get it. This was a stand-alone bill. It failed when it was attached to a bigger defense bill.

And it's historic. Times have changed. The Joint Chiefs were for this, and the president signed it this morning.

CONAN: Also a big delivery on a campaign promise to his political base.

LIASSON: Definitely.

CONAN: The other big promise that he did not get through was the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path for citizenship for minors who were brought to this country illegally as children.

LIASSON: The DREAM Act was brought up by Harry Reid in the lame duck without hearings, kind of sprung on the Senate. And it is a big, important promise the president needs to deliver on or at least really try hard to before he stands for re-election.

The DREAM Act is what comprehensive immigration reform has become. It's not the full path to citizenship for all illegals, but at least it starts with children who were brought here when they were very young and who would go to college or join the military in order to get to the back of the line and then eventually become citizens.

There are some people who say they would have voted for it if it had been tweaked, if it had required these young people to get a degree, not merely to be in college. So I think the president's going to be pushing this again and again next year.

BLOCK: Yeah, but with a less amenable Congress.

LIASSON: Yes, but on the other hand, the Republicans enter the immigration debate at their peril also because Hispanics are the fastest growing part of the electorate, and they don't want to be seen as the anti-Hispanic party. That's hurt them in the past. So we'll see if they just maintain their complete opposition to this or not.

CONAN: A week ago, it looked as if the START treaty, the new START treaty on limiting strategic arms with Russia, was going to be punted to the next session of Congress again, with more Republican senators, and all of a sudden it looks like it's going to sail through today.

LIASSON: This one was a surprise for me. I really thought the president took a big risk by making it such a priority for the lame duck. You know, some people thought he could have gotten it if he had just decided to push for it in March, but the math, of course, would have been harder. He would have needed many more Republican senators. He would have needed 14 instead of nine.

But he persisted. He had a tremendous number - amount of support from former Republican secretaries of state, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were all appointed by Republican presidents, and finally he got the votes he needed from the Republican side despite the opposition of the number one and number two Republicans in the Senate.

I didn't think that that many Republicans would break with Jon Kyl and Mitch McConnell, but they did.

CONAN: And John McCain as well.

LIASSON: And John McCain.

CONAN: Yeah, the number one Republican on defense issues, who lost on two of those issues this week. But it's important to mention, the spending bill went through with much less fanfare than any of those things we mentioned, with maybe some landmines buried for Democrats.

LIASSON: That is a big loss for the Democrats. They don't really have anybody but themselves to blame because they failed to pass a budget and the appropriations bills on time, and they were left at the end of the year in the lame duck with this massive omnibus spending bill to fund the government for the next year.

And instead, the Republicans, who had started out as part of the deal to push this through, I think just as what happened on the earmark ban, the Tea Party forces in the Republican Party were against this, it was laden with earmarks. And Mitch McConnell decided that he wasn't going to support this, the Republicans dropped their support, and they're just going to fund the government a couple months at a time.

CONAN: And it's going to be really interesting to see if the president can then get funding for things like health care, that was not in this spending bill.

LIASSON: Right.

CONAN: But I wanted to go back on the START treaty a minute. There was a really interesting exchange on politics, not on the substance of the treaty but on politics.

You mentioned Mitch McConnell - the Senate Minority Leader portrayed the effort as an effort to push this - effort, this treaty on national security through at the very last minute without enough consideration.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): Our top concern should be the safety and security of our nation, not some politician's desire to declare a political victory and host a press conference before the first of the year.

CONAN: Well...

LIASSON: This is really something. He never lets us forget what his top concern is, or job number one, as he told the National Journal, which is to deny President Obama a second term. And here he's saying: I don't want to let President Obama declare victory, and that's why I'm against this. Which is kind of extraordinary. He keeps on returning to this theme.

But he failed, and the president, actually today, is going to hold a press conference, and he's going to consider - hail this as a big victory.

CONAN: And one man he's going to have to thank is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and that's John Kerry of Massachusetts - of course the former presidential candidate - who was the point man and, well, got a lot of points as he excoriated Republicans, saying Democrats had gone out of their way to give them enough time to consider this.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Having accommodated their interests, they now come back and turn around and say: Oh, you guys are terrible, you're bringing this treaty up at the last minute. I mean, is there no shame?

CONAN: Is there no shame? Well, a phrase with some echoes...

LIASSON: Yes, and it can be overused, but the point is that the Republicans originally, Jon Kyl in particular, said we just don't want to do it in a lame duck. It's not that we're necessarily against it. Of course in the end they did end up being against it.

But Mitch McConnell also said we don't have enough time, yet he did have enough time to make up his mind on this, and he voted no.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who have some nominees for people from this Congress who they will miss come next Congress, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Let's start with Jacqueline(ph) in Yachats in Oregon.

JACQUELINE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Jacqueline, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

JACQUELINE: Oh, okay. Russ Feingold. I'm going to miss him terribly. I think he is one of the few progressives left, along with Bernie Sanders and a few others. And I think he was a casualty of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court. And I'm just really sad to see him go.

I think he was honest, and you know, he was on my side most of the time. So I am definitely going to miss Russ.

CONAN: The Citizens United - of course the Supreme Court decision which gave corporations the ability to provide unlimited amounts of money for issue advertising.

And Russ Feingold, Mara, well, narrowly defeated but you'd have to say subsumed by the Republican wave.

LIASSON: Yes, subsumed by the Republican wave, part of that big wave that swept through the Midwest, states like Russ Feingold's Wisconsin, and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Iowa, really important electoral states. Now all of them have Republican governors, and a lot of them got Republican senators.

CONAN: All right, Jacqueline, thanks very much for the call. Let's go next to - this is Barry(ph), Barry with us from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

BARRY (Caller): Yes, I'm going to miss Russ Feingold as well, but also Arlen Specter as a moderate.

CONAN: Arlen Specter, of course, a long-time Republican senator and switched parties because he didn't think he could win the Republican primary this year, and Arlen Specter was in the course of a final statement on the floor of the Senate, I think it was yesterday, and described his farewell not as a goodbye speech but as a closing argument, and then went ballistic on the culture of Congress, particularly on his former party.

Sen. SPECTER: Republican senators contributed to the primary defeats of Bennet, Murkowski and Castle. Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.

CONAN: Cannibalism, his word for the - I guess Tea Party movement that swept some of the Republican moderates, or conservatives in some cases, out of the Senate.

LIASSON: And just as John Kerry kind of reprised a famous phrase, mindless cannibalism is what former Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright said in his valedictory speech when he was forced out of Congress.

But it's interesting that Arlen Specter's closing argument was really all about Republicans, not about the party that he joined in order to save himself.

CONAN: Cathy's(ph) on the line calling from Little Rock.

CATHY (Caller): Hi, I'm going to miss Vic Snyder, congressman from Arkansas.

CONAN: And what particularly about him are you going to miss?

CATHY: He's just a voice of sanity and clarity in a house of insanity.

CONAN: That's not a bad phrase. You might want to copyright that, Cathy, before it gets away from you. Vic Snyder, among many Democrats who will not be returning from this last Congress.

LIASSON: Many moderate Democrats. What happened this year is that the Democratic caucus in the House got smaller and more liberal because the moderates are the ones who were defeated. They were the ones who had made the Democrats' majority.

The Democrats made their majority by moving to the center and electing a lot of moderates in swing districts. The Republicans, very unusually, made their majority by moving to the right.

CONAN: Cathy, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

CATHY: Thank you.

CONAN: And Mara, before we end this segment, I have to ask you: Who are you going to miss?

LIASSON: Well, I'll miss some Republican moderates too. I guess Judd Gregg and Bob Bennett were people who did work across the lines and work across the aisle. And there are a lot of things coming up, the issues before the next Congress, like immigration reform, like the budget deficit, and tax reform, where people like that are really important.

CONAN: Is the character of the party changed? Normally when a party gets bigger, it becomes more diverse.

LIASSON: Yes, and that was the point I was making. I mean, the Democrats followed that traditional path. They got bigger, they got more diverse. They elected more conservatives.

CONAN: Blue Dogs.

LIASSON: Blue Dogs, moderate Democrats. In this case, the Republican Party is getting more conservative. Now, whether it's getting more diverse is a little unclear, and we don't know yet exactly what effect the Tea Party is going to have on the Republicans in Congress.

We've already seen them having a couple effects. They forced an earmark ban when the leadership really didn't want it. I think they killed the omnibus spending bill when the leadership wasn't sure it wanted -whether it wanted to do that.

So they're definitely going to exert a force, but maybe Mitch McConnell and John Boehner can keep them in line. We don't know yet.

CONAN: More with guest Political Junkie Mara Liasson in a moment. We'll be crunching the census numbers, talking about reapportionment, and more important now, redistricting. Pennsylvania, we want to hear from you. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

We have a guest political junkie with us today, NPR correspondent Mara Liasson. And if the president seems to be on a legislative winning streak, Republicans can comfort themselves after the U.S. Census Bureau issued new numbers yesterday.

Based on population changes, the number of seats in the House will be reshuffled. Some states gain, others lose. And the map shifted in favor of red states.

Republican election victories across the country means they will also control the redistricting process in many of those states. One of them is Pennsylvania, which lost a seat. Rob Gleason is the chair of the Republican Party there and joins us now by phone from Pittsburgh. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. ROB GLEASON (Pennsylvania Republican Party): Hi, Neal, I'm happy to be with you today.

CONAN: And we want to hear from listeners in the Keystone State. How should lines be redrawn? Who gets to decide? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Rob Gleason, first of all, we have to congratulate you: Quite a year.

Mr. GLEASON: Thank you, it was a wonderful year, and I'm sure you know this: Pennsylvania had more takeaways than any of the 50 states.

CONAN: But you also a lost a congressional seat due to population shift. Who now gets to decide where that - those new lines will be drawn?

Mr. GLEASON: Well, in Pennsylvania there will be a commission that is picked by the - both caucuses in the House and the Senate. But then the and the fifth member - and the governor, of course, has to sign off on it. But the fifth member of the commission is picked by the four.

They usually can't decide on it. So the Supreme Court will -Pennsylvania Supreme Court would decide, and we took control of the Supreme Court last year.

CONAN: So you would expect to have the deciding vote on that?

Mr. GLEASON: I would expect to have the deciding vote, and that we will be redrawing the districts. However, having said that, you know, I look for - as the state chairman, I look for an open and fair and transparent process. The gerrymandering that went on the last time, that doesn't serve the people well. We have districts that are as strange as you could find anywhere.

Where I live in the 12th, and the one that might be endangered, where Jack Murtha lived, runs from the Ohio line into West-Central Pennsylvania and up north into Pennsylvania. It was a terrible district. But I remember Mr. Murtha saying that he told the drawers he didn't care where his district was, he felt he could win. And he was right about that. But now it's going to be a bit different.

CONAN: As you mentioned, Republicans in the past complained about Democratic gerrymandering. Is it now your turn to try to maximize Republican seats?

Mr. GLEASON: Well, it is, but I'm a little different about that. You know, I think that districts should try to be concentric and that the congressmen should represent a geographical area. I mean, we have a county, Montgomery County, outside of Philadelphia, it has about 800,000 residents, and they have seven congressmen. I mean, it's ridiculous the way that is set up.

So I would urge the legislature, and I will weigh in on this, to make sure that areas, again, have congressmen representing in a more concentric places(ph).

And you know, as I look at this redistricting, we won five congressional elections this time, and we won five that have - three of them had Democratic districts. So it's really not so much about the district; it's about the person who runs.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. Again, we want to hear from callers in Pennsylvania. How should these district lines be redrawn?

800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. We'll go to Josie(ph), Josie with us from Reading in Pennsylvania.

JOSIE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Go ahead.

JOSIE: I live in a horrendously gerrymandered district, and it's governed by - our state senator is Mike Folmer. And I live in Western Berks, and the end of our district is 100 miles from here. And we have -you know, they don't really represent us. They - you know, they only represent a little portion of it. And it's very frustrating.

CONAN: And how would you like to see it redrawn, Josie?

JOSIE: I would like to see where we would, it would almost be countywide, so that, you know, we have a lot in common with the people in our county, so that it would, you know, it wouldn't be just little pieces of counties.

Literally, the townships along one edge of our county are with one district, and it's the same for the neighboring counties. So it's just -it's very odd, and I think - I mean, if you (technical difficulties) if you looked at the shape of the district, you would see that it's almost shaped like a crab with a center and four big legs out there. And the people on the legs aren't represented as well as everybody else is.

CONAN: Rob Gleason, should county lines be a factor in redistricting?

Mr. GLEASON: Yeah, I think they should. I mean a lot of times it's the population in certain sparsely populated areas of Pennsylvania, so we're going to have to do that. But she's absolutely right. It doesn't make any sense.

I live in a congressional district that's a 100 miles - or a state senate district that's 100 miles long. It's dumb. And I would, again, think that we shouldn't do this. She is absolutely right. We need to have everybody - congressmen, senators and State House members -represent groups of people, and it's equal - equally that they can get together.

So she's right. Josie's right, and she made a good point.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Josie. Mara?

JOSIE: Thank you.

LIASSON: You know, the one state, of course, that makes sure that everybody is geographically contiguous in their districts is Iowa, and they have a nonpartisan process.

The thing about redistricting is that in general - I'm not talking about Pennsylvania - in general it is one of the most nakedly political processes there is. There's no finer points of policy involved. It's just trying to draw districts that can help your guys keep those congressional seats.

And what happened this year is the Republican wave coincided with a zero year, and that puts them in a terrific position, because right now in 20 states Republicans have total control, the legislature and the governor's mansion. So they have total control over the redistricting process.

And I've seen estimates that Republicans have control over drawing the lines of 195 congressional seats, Democrats have total control of drawing the lines of 45 congressional seats, and the rest of them are split.

So Republicans are in a very good position to cement the gains they made this year for possibly another decade.

CONAN: For the next 10 years. And Rob Gleason, as you look ahead, though, some say you have to be careful about maximizing your gains. Should there be another Democratic wave, as in '08, if you draw the lines too carefully and give Republican candidates too little an edge, a lot of them could be swept away.

Mr. GLEASON: Well, that's true, and I think that's what people - the incumbents are always trying to protect themselves and pick up a few hundred more here and a few hundred more there.

And, you know, I think that might be the old way. I mean, and I've been around a long time, but I think campaigning has changed a lot - because of the Internet, because of the better electronic communications we have. People are better informed.

It used to be very important to draw the district because the people didn't know what was going on, and so you kind of set it up so that your man would get in. Again, I think it's overworked. I think Mara's absolutely right. A lot of the politicians, they've already contacted me. They want more Republicans in this, they want more Republicans in that.

I had a call from the Congress, and the leaders in Congress, and they suggested that I try to keep the gains that I had in Pennsylvania and not try to get more, and they're probably right about that.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much for being with us today, and again, I suspect it's a happy Christmas for you.

Mr. GLEASON: It's a happy Christmas. It's wonderful. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Appreciate your time.

Mr. GLEASON: Bye.

CONAN: Let's go next to Jim Burn. We're talking with listeners in the Keystone State. How should the lines be redrawn? Who gets to decide? Jim Burn is the chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, with us today also from Pittsburg. Nice to have you with us.

Mr. JIM BURN (Chairman, Pennsylvania Democratic Party): Thanks - thanks for the opportunity to be on your show today.

CONAN: And it's a less happy Christmas, a tough year for Democrats in Pennsylvania.

Mr. BURN: It has been a very tough year for us. We understand that. There were a lot of variables, a lot of factors. We're scouring over all that data, seeing where we were effective, where we were not, and what we can do at this point is move forward and work to elect Democrats in the future here.

CONAN: Ten years ago you guys had the opportunity to redraw the lines the way you'd like. Is now turnabout fair play?

Mr. BURN: Well, as long as there is an open process that includes input from everyone: Democrat, Republican, independent, Pennsylvania voters and those with an interest in this state moving forward. Open transparency, that I think is what we all want.

As long as that is happening, and these lines are being drawn to be inclusive, fair and equitable, versus being drawn to dig moats around castles of power, we'll be fine with it.

I hope that that is what happens - it's a fair and equitable process that is transparent versus behind-the-scenes, closed-door, backroom deals to hold on to power.

CONAN: Is there some scenario that's a nightmare for you, that you look and say, oh boy, I hope they don't do that?

Mr. BURN: Well, we know it's not a matter of if they are going to eliminate a Democratic seat. It's going to be which Democratic seat are the Republicans going to eliminate. And we suspect there are three that they're looking at.

We suspect that they're looking at the Critz seat, formerly the Murtha seat. We think they're looking at the Holden seat out in the east. We suspect they may be looking a little bit at the Altmire seat up in the northwest part of the state. But it's going to be a Democrat seat that we are about to lose. We're convinced of that.

CONAN: Let's go to Greg(ph), and Greg's with us from Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania.

GREG (Caller): Hi, yes. Actually, I'm really glad Chairman Burns came on because I was hoping he would, and I had a question for him. And he brought up the Murtha seat, but I was also thinking the Pennsylvania Sixth. I think - I believe it's Jim Gerlach's seat. I was wondering how he thinks those two seats are actually going to end up being redrawn.

Mr. BURN: Well, I'm not exactly sure. I don't know. I don't suspect that one's in play, quite frankly. I think it's going to be one of those three. And I'm thinking tactically as if - if I were on the Republican side, I think the Murtha seat gives them the best chance to fortify their power down there. It is a conservative area. Murtha had a great hold on it. Critz will do a great job there. But if they draw those lines down there in a certain way, they're going to strengthen some of their folks a little bit too the west of it and a little bit to the east of it. So quite frankly, I don't see Gerlach coming into play any way, shape or form here.

CONAN: And you have to concede that the Murtha district is curiously shaped.

Mr. BURN: Oh, it's very curiously shaped. And as my friend and colleague Mr. Gleason said before I came on, Mr. Murtha said, you know, bring it on. You know, I'll run and win what - however you draw it, and he was right in that regard. He was a great leader for the entire state irrespective of party affiliation.

CONAN: Mara, you were in Pennsylvania during the election campaign doing a piece about...

LIASSON: Yes.

CONAN: ...redistricting and the importance of all these...

LIASSON: Yes.

CONAN: ...assembly and state Senate districts.

LIASSON: Yeah. It was so amazing. I mean, I actually went to the - I think it was the 150th - I can't remember exactly which one it was. It was in Wayne. I did a standup there to kind of make the point that this was a year when even these obscure state legislative races became incredibly important. And tens of millions of dollars were spent on these races to control the process that is just now getting underway, and big heavy-hitting players on both sides, for both parties were involved in the process of making sure that state legislatures were either Democratic or Republican so...

Mr. BURN: And - exactly. And back to the caller regarding Mr. Gerlach, that is a very - the population over there, I think when we look at the census data, you're going to see that Gerlach's district is a growing district. There's more population coming in than going out so I don't -plus, he's a Republican. I think they're going to leave him alone. I didn't mean to interrupt.

CONAN: Oh, that's all right.

LIASSON: You know, the other point to make about this is that this isn't a guarantee. Just because you - one party gets to control the drawing of the lines, it doesn't mean that they're going to absolutely elect their own guys to these districts. It doesn't always work like that. It gives them an advantage.

Mr. BURN: It gives them - it does, absolutely. But the thing is when we look at the numbers here and look at the victories that our colleagues on the other side had, they have substantial majorities in the Senate, substantial majorities in the House, and they have the governor's mansion. All we're asking for is an openness and a transparent process where we're allowed to ask questions and have them answered adequately, not - I say we, I don't mean the Democrats; I mean, all Pennsylvanians. If they do that and can justify the lines that are about to be drawn with transparency, it's going to create less controversy, less acrimony as we move forward. So that's all we're asking for. And The League of Women Voters is asking the same thing, many other groups are asking what we are asking here.

CONAN: Greg, thanks very much for the call. Guest political junkie Mara Liasson is with us. We're also speaking at the moment with Jim Burn, the head of the Democratic Party in the state of Pennsylvania. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Sarah(ph) on the line. Sarah with us from Philly.

SARAH (Caller): Hi. So I don't know much about the Iowa redistricting process, but one of the things that strikes me is that would be really valuable for having a nonpartisan independent party drawing these lines is we could make districts more competitive. And I think when we do that, we're going to end up with more moderate candidates, and therefore I think we get better policy that's going to satisfy the masses as a whole. (Unintelligible).

CONAN: And if you could find somebody...

LIASSON: Dream on.

CONAN: ...nonpartisan - yeah.

LIASSON: Dream on.

CONAN: Nonpartisan that everybody would agree with.

LIASSON: Right. Yes. Yeah.

CONAN: But, Mara, she's right about...

LIASSON: Well, no, she's absolutely right.

CONAN: ...right. About more competitive districts.

LIASSON: It's just - but that's why - but incumbents don't want competitive districts. That's why they don't do that. I mean, Iowa is a real good government state. It's an anomaly. But incumbents don't want competitive districts. They want districts that are safe for their people and a great - the dirty little secret of redistricting used to be that it was all about horse trading. In other words, they would - they were both complicit. They draw safe Democratic seats and safe Republican seats in states that have the balance of power. When one party is in control totally, they're generally going to run roughshod over the other guys.

Mr. BURN: It's an unfortunate way to be bipartisan, isn't it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Every other...

LIASSON: That's right. That's right.

CONAN: ...every other decade. Yes.

Mr. BURN: Every other decade on an issue like that.

LIASSON: Right.

CONAN: Sarah, thanks very much for the call. And, Jim Burn, thank you so much for your time today and good luck to you.

Mr. BURN: My pleasure. To your listeners, have a safe and happy holiday season.

CONAN: Chairman of the Pennsylvania Democrats Jim Burn who joined us on the phone from Pittsburgh.

And, Mara, there are a couple of other states we should mention before we go our way. The big winner, of course...

LIASSON: Texas.

CONAN: ...is Texas.

LIASSON: Of course, Texas gets four seats, biggest gain. Now, they are -it's very possible that they'll only be able to make two of them safe for Republicans because they have a huge Hispanic population, and there are certain laws that do control the redistricting process, constitutional considerations, the Voting Rights Act.

CONAN: The Voting Rights Act, yeah.

LIASSON: So it's possible that they can only get two safe Republican seats out of those four.

CONAN: Florida also a big win for Republicans.

LIASSON: Florida is a big win for Republicans, although Florida also does have a new process, which I don't understand all the details of, maybe somebody will call in and tell us, but they also did - they did pass a referendum to have a more bipartisan - nonpartisan process.

CONAN: And in the states that lost two seats - we were talking about Pennsylvania. They just lost one.

LIASSON: New York.

CONAN: New York lost two.

LIASSON: And those are generally the bloodiest redistricting battles. If you're gaining seats, there's room for horse trading, and you can give one to the other side and keep some for yourself. But in places where you're losing a seat, like in Pennsylvania or New York or Ohio...

CONAN: Also losing two seats.

LIASSON: ...you're really talking about who - you know, I'm just giving this as a hypothetical example. I mean, should John Boehner's seat disappear or should Dennis Kucinich's seat disappear? I'm not saying that either...

CONAN: Either one will happen.

LIASSON: ...of them will happen. But I'm just saying those are the considerations somebody is going to - it's like musical chairs. Somebody is going to left without a home at the end.

CONAN: And how do you draw those seats in, for example, densely populated downstate New York and rather thinly populated upstate New York?

LIASSON: Right. And I guess a cynical politician would say that's what computers are for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: There are a couple of other things to point out, but basically, these are seats moving towards the south and western parts...

LIASSON: Oh, yes.

CONAN: ...of the country.

LIASSON: And that's the trend that's been going on for many, many decades, and it's just accelerated.

CONAN: And should this be seen as an effort - not an effort - but as resulting in not only greater Republican seats but redrawing the presidential election map in favor of the Republicans?

LIASSON: Well, in terms of the electoral votes, I mean, it means now that if Barack Obama, you know, if we had the same race again, he would have won six fewer electoral votes. So it's not huge. In a tight race, it would matter, not in a race like the one we just had in 2008. But, yes, it makes the electoral map a little more friendly to Republicans. However, a lot of the growth in those southwestern states is among Hispanics. They're the fastest growing portion of the electorate. So that, you know, conceivably could help Democrats.

CONAN: Mara Liasson, thanks very much for being - for filling in this week.

LIASSON: Thank you.

CONAN: Mara Liasson joined us as our guest political junkie. Ken Rudin will be back in the new year. Ron Elving will be with us next Wednesday. Meanwhile, coming up a tale of two Christmases. Many of those who are doing well economically are doing very well, while millions of others are left behind. Retailers, what's moving in your store? What isn't? Are shoppers buying Coach bags or Coach bag knockoffs this holiday season? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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