’Tis the season of the gerrymandered congressional district. Around the country, legislators are vying with each other as to which can come up with the most antidemocratic process for drawing new districts.
So far, legislators in North Carolina have approved a plan—which the state’s supreme court put on hold on Wednesday—that would give the GOP, in the evenly divided state, 10 of the state’s 15 members of the US Congress. In Wisconsin, Republican legislators are attempting an end-run around the Democratic governor, with a plan to change electoral maps to add to their congressional haul in the state. They have a chance at this, in turn, only due to the fact that gerrymandering 10 years ago left them with a nearly two-thirds majority in each statehouse, despite the state’s being roughly even divided between the two parties, despite its now having a Democratic governor, and despite its having voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Similar power grabs—gerrymandered state-level districts creating legislative majorities that, in turn, allow for gerrymandered congressional districts—are playing out in Texas. Legislators there are trying to insulate existing Republican representatives from being vulnerable to the purpling trends in the state.
To a degree, both parties are playing this dirty game—Democrats in control in Illinois, for example, have redrawn maps to reduce GOP strength in their state. But, by and large, the power grab is one-directional. For better or worse, many Democratic-controlled states have in recent years moved away from partisan gerrymandering and created bipartisan or nonpartisan electoral commissions to come up with new districting recommendations in the wake of the release of state-by-state Census numbers.
In California, which, to be fair, doesn’t really have that many GOP seats left to redistrict out of existence (the party holds only 11 of the state’s 53 congressional seats), Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the legislator have resisted the temptation to embrace gerrymandering. With the state set to lose one seat in the upcoming Congress, legislators have, instead, left it up to a bipartisan commission to draw up new district boundaries. That’s a noble act, but, given the refusal of the GOP to abandon gerrymandering, it could also potentially add to the Democrats’ woes when it comes to holding on to their slim congressional majority come next November.
In light of all this, there was, in recent weeks, something deliciously pleasing about the fact that Devin Nunes, one of the most odious of Trump’s enablers from 2016 through 2020, looked set to have a down-in-the-dust fight to be reelected to his San Joaquin Valley seat next year.
Nunes won his last election by more than 8 percent; but the new boundaries being drawn up by the independent commission put his seat, which was already trending away from easy GOP dominance, up for grabs. To hold on to it, Nunes would have to pull out all the stops, and, even then, there were no guarantees his new district, deep in California’s farm country, would stay red.
The Trump-lickspittle, who has long substituted bluster for substance, and sensationalism for brains, apparently didn’t have a stomach for this particular fight. And so, in the hallowed tradition of fading politicians the world over, this week he suddenly decided that he needed to spend more time with his loved ones… by taking a job with Trump’s new social media company, the Trump Media & Technology Group.
This is, in some ways, a new twist on the old revolving-door practice of politicians moving on to become lobbyists for the companies that had been under their jurisdiction. In other ways, though, it’s just more of the same. Nunes spent four years using his congressional platform to cheerlead for Trump, to try to deflect any and all corruption allegations against him, to act as his wingman when it came to the Russia investigations, to make ever-more-outrageous counterclaims during the two impeachment investigations. He was, by and large, nothing more than a lobbyist writ large for a real estate mogul masquerading as a “president.” Now, he has gone through the revolving door, and is officially on his sugar daddy’s payroll.
Nunes never represented California’s interests in Congress. In 2017, he voted, along with several of his fellow California Republicans, to limit the property tax deductions that state residents could claim against their federal taxes. In a high-property-value state like California, that had a huge impact on many middle-class property owners. Three years later, in 2020, he allowed his congressional staff to take part in a dirty tricks operation aimed at smearing Joe Biden vis-à-vis his and his family’s Ukraine connections. Throughout his time in office, he has been AWOL when it comes to holding town hall meetings with his constituents or to proposing meaningful legislation to address key local issues such as water shortages.
California’s 22nd Congressional District is certainly better off without Nunes. There will, in all likelihood, be a special election to fill his seat early in the new year—though the governor has considerable discretion as to when, over the next several months, he calls this election. In a year of doom-and-gloom forecasts for the Democrats around the country, this particular election, the last in the 22nd district before redistricting kicks in, offers a rare chance for the party to successfully flex its muscles.