The following analysis was written by Bill Moreau, president of the Indiana Citizen Education Foundation and publisher of its online platform, The Indiana Citizen.
Most of the commentary about last week’s disaster in the Tennessee House of Representatives touched on—but didn’t sufficiently blame—gerrymandering’s role in creating it.
Because they drew the maps through which they selected the voters who would return them to office, I wonder if the members of the Republican supermajority in charge of the Tennessee House are having a sow/reap moment?
You know the various biblical references to the consequences of mankind’s actions. They’re both positive—“sow to the Spirit; reap everlasting life”–and negative—“sow the wind; reap the whirlwind.”
For Tennessee House Republicans, their actions are squarely in the latter category.
And not just because they expelled two Black Democrats but didn’t expel a white one. That was appalling enough.
It’s because they created the environment in which the Democrats felt compelled to engage in “good trouble,” as John Lewis would say, following the minority’s understandable effort to ban assault-style weapons in the wake of the horrific Nashville school shooting.
Why? Because the majority knew they’d be rewarded by the hard-core party loyalists who determine their elections in gerrymandered districts where winning the primary assures success in November. We must block any debate on banning assault-style weapons, their political analysis goes, to head off competition in the primary without any fear we’ll face a competitor in the general election who’ll mobilize voters for a referendum on our tactics.
But have they taken a moment to consider how the gerrymandering to ensure their own election necessitated the creation of packed Democratic districts, where the name of the game is also winning the primary? Funny thing about gerrymandering, it’s mathematically impossible to create maps in which the majority party wins every single seat, so you have to pack the other party’s voters into as few districts as possible.
So much for the bedrock civic principle that democracy is nurtured when voters have real choices in competitive general elections.
The three Tennessee House Democrats—now national political figures–who dared to stir up trouble volubly will be richly rewarded by their primary voters and by state and national Democratic supporters, as they should be. In fact, both of the expelled legislators already have been returned to their seats.
Wonder if any of the supermajority House Republicans have looked into the mirror and said to themselves, “This is what it means to reap the whirlwind.”
Here in Indiana, the supermajority Republicans who control our state House and Senate followed the same playbook as their Tennessee counterparts when they drew new districts in 2021. The result? Last year, 53 of the 100 House and 25 Senate seats on the ballot—42 percent!–had no major-party opposition. Of those, 14 Democrats in packed House districts had no opposition.
It will be interesting to see whether frustrated Hoosier Democrats start entering primaries to run against long-time, unchallenged, incumbent Democrats who are perceived as being insufficiently anti-Republican.
And when those new Democratic members grab the microphone—or bullhorn—will Hoosier Republicans have a sow/reap epiphany?