Most Incumbents in 30 Years May Lose Seats in Redistricting

Congressman Howard Berman
“My home is in the 30th Congressional District, and that is where I plan to run for re-election” if the map becomes binding, Howard Berman said in a news release. Photo: Natalia Kolesnikva/AFP/Getty Images

Brad Sherman and Howard Berman have served together in Congress for the past 15 years, Democrats from neighboring southern California districts with a lot in common. That seems about to end.

The California commission that redrew congressional district lines put their homes in the same district. Unless courts reject the map or one of them runs and wins elsewhere, either Sherman or Berman will leave Congress next year in retirement or in defeat.

With 18 states done or almost done with the once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional district lines, the likelihood is strong that more sitting House members will be forced into face-offs than in the past 30 years.

“Redistricting is term limits by another name,” Michael McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said in a telephone interview.

In the maps drawn so far, at least 13 districts in California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina are being reshaped in a way that put the homes of two incumbents into the same territory. Some of those House members have decided to run for another seat and others have yet to say whether they’ll run at all.

Two more such pairings are expected but not yet set in Massachusetts and New Jersey, and more are probable in the 25 states that aren’t far along in the remapping process, including Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Seven states with small populations have a single, at-large House seat.

Previous Cycles

A decade ago, post-Census redistricting led to 10 incumbent-versus-incumbent matchups: four in the 2002 primary elections, four more in the 2002 general election and two in 2004, after a redo of district lines in Texas. At least three incumbents chose not to run after being paired against colleagues in reconfigured districts.

Incumbents ran against each other in four primary elections and five general election contests in 1992. A total of 11 races pitted incumbents against each other in 1982.

“It’s every incumbent’s worst nightmare, because there’s no tougher challenger than someone who’s also an incumbent,” Tim Storey, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, said in a telephone interview.

If California’s new commission-drawn map stands, six incumbents are likely to face each other in 2012 primary elections now that Grace Napolitano has decided to run for an open seat rather than against fellow Democratic incumbent Linda Sanchez.

There’s a possibility that Republican Jerry Lewis and Democrat Joe Baca could face each other in California’s general election, although Lewis, 76, hasn’t said whether he plans to run for an 18th term or where he’d run. In addition, two incumbent-against-incumbent contests are shaping up in Illinois, one in Iowa and one in Louisiana.

Michigan Squeeze

In Michigan, which is losing one seat, Republican mapmakers paired Democrats Gary Peters and Sander Levin in a suburban Detroit congressional district that would favor Levin. Peters may end up running in an adjacent and more Republican-leaning district.

Georgia, which is gaining a seat, may lose an incumbent because the Savannah home of Democrat John Barrow was attached to the territory represented by Republican Jack Kingston.

Because members of Congress don’t have to live within the boundaries of their districts, Barrow can run in the redrawn 12th District with a changed electorate.

Under the new configuration, which still must be signed into law and then pass federal muster, black voters, who tend to be Democratic-leaning, would comprise 34 percent of the population, down from 43 percent.

Zero-Sum Game

Every 10 years, the 435 House seats are reallocated so that representation reflects population changes.

It’s a zero-sum game in which high-growth states gain at the expense of slow-growth states.

For partisan line-drawers, redistricting provides a rare opportunity to end the careers of political opponents they couldn’t beat at the ballot box.

In most states, politicians make the decisions. Some portion of the estimated $2.4 billion that candidates for governor and state legislature raised in the 2010 election cycle was spent with redistricting in mind.

“It always has been political and it always will be political,” said Harley Staggers Jr., a former Democratic representative from West Virginia who lost his seat in Congress in 1992 after a revised map put him in the same district as another Democratic incumbent.

`Ton of Money’

Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant, said in a telephone interview that his best advice for incumbents paired against colleagues is to “raise a ton of money.”

“Know that you’re going to have your work cut out for you, and start raising a ton of money because you’re going to need the financial resources to communicate with an entirely new set of constituents,” Nevins said.

In anticipation of a possible matchup with another incumbent, some lawmakers have intensified their campaign fund raising. Sherman raised $824,000 in the first half of this year, almost three times as much as he collected in the first half of 2009.

Sherman’s campaign began July with $3.7 million, the second-highest total in the 435-member House. Berman’s fund raising rose to $580,000 in the first half of 2011 from $354,000 in the first half of 2009, a 64 percent increase.

Spielberg, Katzenberg

Berman is getting help from Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, the co-founders of the film company DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. Berman is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over intellectual property issues that are important to the entertainment industry.

Tom Latham, an Iowa Republican, raised $1 million in the first six months of this year, more than three times the $299,000 that he raised during the first half of 2009. He is challenging Democratic Representative Leonard Boswell, who raised $336,000 in the first half of 2011, up 9 percent from 2009.

Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican, raised $709,000 in the first six months of this year, compared with the $377,000 he raised in the first half of 2009. Boustany was paired with freshman Republican Jeff Landry under a congressional map that reduced Louisiana’s districts from seven to six. Landry raised $292,000 in the first half of this year.

A new Florida map may pair some incumbents after voters in 2010 approved a state constitutional amendment restricting the extent to which the lines can be drawn based on political factors. “The Florida changes could be similarly dynamic and cause as much turmoil as California,” Storey said.

Other States

A New Jersey commission that is drawing a new, 12-district map probably will combine the constituencies of one Democrat and one Republican, although it’s not yet clear which two.

In Illinois, Democrats in charge of drawing an 18-district map reshaped the lines to draw several Republicans into districts with other Republicans or into heavily Democratic districts they couldn’t possibly win.

Republicans call it an unfair “partisan gerrymander” and are contesting the map in court.

In Republican-controlled Pennsylvania, which is losing one of its 18 seats, junior Democrats Jason Altmire and Mark Critz probably will be paired in one district.

Republicans also control the line-drawing in Ohio, which is losing two seats from a delegation that currently includes 13 Republicans and five Democrats. Democrat Dennis Kucinich is so convinced his Cleveland-based district will be merged with another Democratic district that he is considering running in Washington state.

Massachusetts Pairing

In Massachusetts, which is also losing one seat, the Democratic-controlled legislature must pair two Democrats, perhaps Stephen Lynch and Bill Keating, because that party holds all 10 seats.

North Carolina will still have 13 seats after redistricting. Republicans controlled the line-drawing process and arranged the map to shift four Democratic incumbents into two districts, although they won’t be running against one another.

California’s Problem

California’s delegation will be unchanged, with 53 seats. The absence of politics is causing problems there for politicians because an independent commission ignored current boundary lines when deciding where to put the new lines.

“The previous redistricting was very much an incumbent-friendly one, where all of them got protected,” said Charles S. Bullock, author of “Redistricting: The Most Political Activity in America.”

“Now you have a group that comes along that pays no attention at all to incumbents,” Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, said in a telephone interview.

As a result, Berman and Sherman are among the probable colleague competitors for 2012.

Sherman, whose office declined interview requests, represents almost 60 percent of the people in the new district. His campaign released an internal poll showing him leading Berman.

Berman issued a news release saying, “My home is in the 30th Congressional District, and that is where I plan to run for re-election.”

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