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It’s not always the most visible Members on Capitol Hill who have the biggest pull back home in Congressional redistricting battles.
True, some of the most powerful Members in this cycle’s redistricting battles are some of the biggest names in the Capitol, wielding influence over their state delegations, caucuses and even, in some cases, the entire House.
For instance, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the unquestioned leader of the Buckeye State delegation and also has incredible influence over local lawmakers back home.
But other key Members when it comes to redistricting are among the more obscure in the House. They stay out of the national spotlight but carry strong relationships with state lawmakers and therefore have major pull when it comes to redrawing the lines for their colleagues. Unassuming Rep. Jerry Costello, for example, is the clear redistricting leader among Illinois Democrats.
“I would say there are two types of Members. No. 1 would be someone in leadership — the leader, the Whip or a committee chair — that is going to be somebody of clout who state lawmakers will respond to,” said Chris Perkins, a Republican pollster who drew the new House map on behalf of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in 2003. “The second type is somebody who came from the state legislative body and has the relationships and the knowledge of the process built in. They know what buttons to push at the state level.”
Influence, of course, is a relative concept when it comes to Congress’ own power to redraw its districts. After all, Members theoretically are not supposed to draw their own seats. Moreover, some states have nonpartisan commissions in charge of redrawing the lines — effectively shutting any elected officials, local or federal, out of the process.
But that doesn’t mean Members don’t have a seat at the redistricting table. In the vast majority of states, the state legislatures still draw the new districts and the governor has veto power over the new Congressional maps.
“Very few of them are going to draw their own districts. But generally, state legislators are curious about what Members of Congress think about the districts they’re going to conceive,” said Mark Gersh, CEO of NCEC Services Inc. and a Democratic redistricting expert.
These influential Members also tend to be powerful among their own delegations, often because they have reputations as being a congenial go-between in the delegation.
“It’s also a matter of how respected they are and how influential they are in the Congress,” Gersh added. “Well-liked is important, but competence is also important.”