Delegations Often Defy Partisan Trends

Posted April 13, 2005 at 6:44pm

Arkansas gave George W. Bush a 5-point victory in 2000 and a cushier 9-point win last year. The state hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since Bill Clinton in 1990.

So why does the Razorback State’s House delegation have three Democrats and only one Republican?

By the same token, why does Florida — so hotly contested during the past two presidential elections — have 18 Republicans in its House delegation but only seven Democrats?

What gives?

As Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) ponders signing a bill to change the Congressional boundaries of the Peach Tree State — a new map that could yield modest gains for Republicans — it is instructive to look at other states where the composition of the Congressional delegation is sharply at variance with the voters’ statewide political leanings.

Of the 43 states that send more than one House Member to Washington, D.C., 11 can be said to have “too many” Republicans in their House delegations. And half a dozen states appear to have “too many” Democrats in their delegations — a number that will drop to five if Georgia, as expected, approves the new map.

In some states, there are obvious reasons for the imbalance.

In many, the partisan makeup of the map makers — in most cases, the governor and Legislature — is the principal explanation.

But other factors play a role, too. In some Southern states, the Voting Rights Act requires district lines to be drawn a certain way to maximize opportunity for minority candidates.

In Ohio — where Republicans in the delegation outnumber Democrats by 12-6 despite the state’s tossup status in the last presidential election — voters have traditionally been inclined to return their incumbents to Congress, again and again. And with the Republicans well-ensconced, Democrats have had little chance to boost their numbers.

In West Virginia — a state once so reliably Democratic that even Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis won in 1980 and 1988, but which more recently backed Bush twice — Republicans are underrepresented in the Congressional delegation largely because they have such a weak bench.

Regardless of the reasons, the remedies, in most places, won’t come until the elections of 2012. Despite the apparently successful Republican re-redistricting efforts in Texas and Georgia and an abortive attempt in Colorado in 2003 — Colorado’s was thrown out in court — the traditional post-census reapportionment still provides the best opportunity to find balance, no matter the bold Democratic talk of seeking revenge elsewhere.

And who knows what the set of political and demographic circumstances will be by then?