State lawmakers carve out their own districts
By Allison Stevens
January 23, 2002
This article is the second in a two-part series on
state legislators who use their influence to draw congressional
districts suited to their own campaigns for Congress. The first part
focused on Republican candidates; the second on Democrats.
Not many congressional hopefuls are as fortunate as
Charles Walker Jr., a 33-year-old political novice whose father is
one of Georgiaís most powerful Democrats.
Walker is running for the
stateís newly drawn 12th District open seat ó a strangely configured
long, thin line that stretches for hundreds of miles in order to
incorporate such distant Democratic strongholds as Athens, Augusta
Walkerís campaign will no doubt receive a boost from
his father, Charles Walker Sr., the majority leader in the state
Senate and one of the most powerful black politicians in the
country. Indeed, Walker Jr. has already reaped the benefits of his
fatherís influence, according to Georgia political analyst Bill
As majority leader, Shipp said, the senior Walker weighed in
on his peers in the state Senate to help create a congressional
district for a candidate to carry on his legacy. The chosen one, it
turns out, is his son.
ìThey looked at the black census tracks,î
Shipp said. ìThey looked at the last election and they saw where
[Vice President Al] Gore ran very well. In other words, they formed
a black districtî that was ìdesigned for a [black Democrat] of his
The result? A convoluted district that separates
communities of interest, but one where the younger Walker is already
the clear frontrunner in a race that is expected to draw about a
ìItís a serious geographical problem,î Shipp
said, ìbut itís no problem for Walker as a candidate. Heíll win the
Democratic nod and I donít see how a Republican has any hope in the
Walker, however, denied the allegation that his
father weighed in on the redistricting process to help him secure a
ìItís a serious myth that my father created the
district for me,î Walker said in an interview. ìMy father is
considered one of the most powerful members of the state Legislature
and people automatically assume that he knew that I was going to run
and that he would do what he could to make sure that he would help
his son. That did not happen in the least bit.î
He also denied that
Georgia Democrats gerrymandered the district to help elect him as
the stateís next African-American congressman, and instead charged
state Rep. Ben Allen (D) with attempting to draw the district to
further his own interests.
Allen used his seniority in the state
Legislature to create a district that wholly incorporates his own
state Assembly district in preparation for his congressional bid,
ìI donít know Bill Shipp, but I will say that he
certainly knows that Ben Allen drew the map to [advance] his
There are three black representatives in the
current 11-member Georgia delegation. In the 2000 elections, about a
quarter of the Georgia voters were black.
If Walker wins, he wonít
be the first beneficiary of a state lawmaker who has used his or her
clout to design a custom-made congressional district. Nor will he be
Nonetheless, he is one of a relatively small number of
state legislators who are pulling strings behind state legislative
doors this year to advance their own political agendas.
seven state lawmakers in the Georgia Legislature won seven of the
stateís then 11 House seats, a phenomenon that played out in states
across the country, according to data compiled by the Center for
Voting and Democracy.
Indeed, 10 years ago, a whopping 40 state
legislators ó including a record number of African-Americans ó won
House seats, the data showed. The class of state lawmakers comprised
almost one-half of the 109-member freshman class that year.
year, however, state legislators are expected to win a maximum of
two of Georgiaís expanded 13-seat delegation. Only ina smattering of
states, such as Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Oklahoma, do
similar opportunities arise.
A number of factors have contributed
to the relatively small number of ambitious state lawmakers running
for office, a phenomenon that works to the disadvantage of minority
and woman candidates seeking entrÈe into Capitol Hill.
executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, said the
dominant trend this year is for state legislatures to shore up
incumbents rather than create new opportunities for rising stars in
state and local politics.
Fewer incumbents have retired, he added,
and there are fewer states that are controlled entirely by one
party, where state legislators have the best opportunities to draw
districts for themselves. In addition, several states have employed
nonpartisan commissions to avoid partisan gerrymandering and costly
ìEverything is so finely tuned with so few seats
needed to change control that itís much more difficult to have oneís
personal ambitions be weighed more highly than the effect on oneís
party,î Richie said.
Thatís not to say that all state lawmakers
have given up on their congressional dreams and Capitol Hill wishes.
In North Carolina, Brad Miller, a Democratic state lawmaker who
chairs the redistricting committee in the state Senate says heís
just about ready to formally kick off his campaign for the stateís
new 13th District in the central and northern part of the state.
Miller agreed to chair the committee last year even though he knew
it would be ìawkwardî because he planned to run for Congress. But he
said Senate President Pro Tem Mark Basnight persuaded him to take
the position anyway.
Miller insists that the new district was not
drawn specifically to help elect him and notes that the new maps
were drawn up by the House redistricting committee ó not the Senate
Still, he considers himself the strong frontrunner in
the new district because he knows the district and its constituents
better than other potential candidate.
Miller currently represents
Wake County, which comprises about half of the Democratic-leaning
district. The fairly compact and contiguous district has a 54-29
percent edge in Democratic registration, but Republicans still say
they have a good chance to win the seat.
Several local newspapers
wrote strongly worded editorials condemning his role in the process.
But Miller said he doesnít think his work on the redistricting
committee will resonate in his campaign.
ìRedistricting is a
process in which a lot of people are acting in their own self
interest,î he said. ìI certainly took my interests into account, but
I was Mother Teresa compared to some.î
California Democrats Sally
Havice and Dennis Cordoza are also running for Congress, as is
Tennessee Democrat Lincoln Davis. None hold leadership positions or
sit on their state redistricting committees. Still, all voted on
maps that made them the clear favorites in these newly drawn
districts that house their hometowns.
In Oklahoma, state Senate
Majority Leader Billy Mickle (D) has no official role in the
redistricting process. But he has nonetheless spent time drawing up
maps in preparation for his congressional bid, according to a
Republican official who declined to be identified.
ìHe showed me
what he was working on,î the official said. ìHe has, on a regular
basis over the last few months, spent several hours a weekî working
on new congressional lines.
In Oklahomaís state House, Rep. Lloyd
Benson, the Speaker emeritus and chairman of the redistricting
committee, is also said to be mulling a congressional bid for one of
Oklahomaís five seats, possibly challenging Rep. J.C. Wattsí (R).
But Mickle is a more likely candidate than Benson, according to
Brent Wilcox, spokesman for the Oklahoma Democratic Party.
has already formed an exploratory committee for the seat currently
held by retiring Rep. Wes Watkins (R), which leans Democratic and is
expected to be shored up after the Democrats, who control both
chambers of the state Legislature, complete the new districting
maps. Gov. Tom Keating (R) has said he will veto any plan that harms
incumbents, a threat that will most likely cause the maps to be
finally drawn in court.
Still, in all likelihood, Mickleís state
Senate district would also be wholly contained within a new
congressional district, Wilcox said. He added that Mickleís
political clout and a tailor-made district would make the
well-regarded state legislator the favorite in what is already
becoming a crowded field.
ìI think heíll have a great deal of
influence [on the process],î added Oklahoma Republican strategist
Tom Cole. ìIf the district exists, heíll be regarded very seriously,
probably, as the favorite for the Democratic seat.î