Bob Mercer says, “Once again, some Democrats in the blog world take issue with an analysis from this reporter. No, I’m not a Republican, nor am I a shill for the Republican Party, contrary to their accusations.”
He appears to be talking about blog responses to his initial analysis of the proposed initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. Larry Kurtz was excessively hard on Mercer (in other news, Sun Rises). That’s one Democrat. I mentioned Mercer’s critique that redistricting won’t solve the bigger problem of recruiting registered Democrats, but I didn’t accuse him of shillery. That’s not some Democrats.
But let’s go by our bygones and look at Mercer’s new critique of the IRC proposal, the fact that it empowers the partisan Board of Elections to appoint the independent redistricting commission:
The state Board of Elections is a creation of the Legislature. The Legislature sets the qualifications to serve on the state board and designates the officials who choose the state board members. Here is the law. The state board has seven members. The Legislature’s four caucus leaders each picks one. The House speaker picks two, a county auditor from each party, nominated by county auditors meeting at the South Dakota Association of County Officials. If all follow the normal path, the state board would have three Republicans and three Democrats. And the seventh member is the secretary of state, who serves as chairman for the state board, and who is elected as a partisan candidate in a statewide election. The last Democrat elected as secretary of state in South Dakota was Lorna Herseth. That was in 1974, the same year that South Dakota last elected a Democrat as governor in Dick Kneip.
So the state board, by law, is inherently partisan 4-3, with the swing vote belonging to the political party of the secretary of state. The catch is nothing prevents the Legislature from changing the state law regarding how the state board members are appointed. The majority party in the Legislature could amend the law to skew the state board into a greater imbalance [Bob Mercer, “The Inherent Flaw in the Proposal for a Redistricting Commission,” Pure Pierre Politics, 2015.07.15].
Mercer is right (see that, Bob? I said right, not Republican) about the Board of Elections. It is as subject to partisan error and bias as any other creature of the Legislature.
But (no, Bob, that’s with one t) Mercer doesn’t explain why this inherent flaw in the proposal makes it worse than the status quo or, for that matter, any other proposal to make fairer the drawing of legislative district boundaries. If we accept the idea that redistricting by an independent commission is better than redistricting by self-interested legislators (and Mercer hasn’t said that’s bad yet), then we have to decide who picks those commissioners. It’s hard to identify any existing, informed entity that could pick commissioners for the IRC that doesn’t have some connection to the partisan political process. The Board of Elections still consists of appointees of a partisan legislator and a Secretary of State who runs on a partisan ballot, but that’s still a degree removed from letting the partisan majority in the Legislature draw districts themselves with an eye toward their own electoral viability.
I suppose we could appoint an independent committee to appoint the independent committee, but then we’d need an independent committee to appoint the appointers, and then it’s turtles all the way down. We could make the IRC like a jury and pick nine random citizens, but would that produce better results than picking from a pool of interested and capable participants?
No matter how politicized the pickers, the IRC proposal binds them to pick no more than three members of any party and least three members independent of the two major parties. The proposed system isn’t perfect, but its clear rules offer a better chance for fairness and competitive legislative races than the current system.
Iowa manages to make independent redistricting work with a five-person commission selected by majority and minority legislative leaders. Arizona makes it work with an IRC chosen by the nonpartisan commission on appellate court appointments, which is appointed by the governor. If we hold the Board of Elections to the rules of this proposed initiative, South Dakota can make independent redistricting work, too.
And more competitive legislative races mean more exciting news to write about in Pierre, right, Bob?