About Our Guest
Fred W. Hudson is a lawyer who served on the staff of US senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas until his defeat in a reelection bid. Fred moved to Virginia in 1996 and has been extensively involved in party politics holding many positions with the Democratic Party from Precinct Chair to Albemarle County Party Chair, and is currently serving as the 5th Congressional District Committee member and Chair, and the 2nd Vice-Chair of Rules of the Virginia Democratic Party. Fred is also the host of the Albemarle Political Corner, a radio program sponsored by the Albemarle County Democratic Party.
Jan Paynter: Hello. Iím Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters. Our guest today is Fred Hudson. Welcome, Fred.
Fred Hudson: Thank you, Jan.
Jan Paynter: Fred Hudson is a lawyer who served on the staff of U.S. Senator Ralph Yarbrough, Texas, until his defeat for his reelection bid. Fred moved to Virginia in 1996 and has been extensively involved in party politics holding many positions with the Democratic Party from Precinct Chair to Albemarle County Chair and is currently serving as 5th Congressional District Committee member and chair and 2nd Vice Chair of the Virginia Democratic Party.
Fred is host of Albemarle Political Corner, a radio program sponsored by the Albemarle County Democratic Party. Youíre a busy man.
Fred Hudson: I try to be.
Jan Paynter: In a democracy, the privilege to vote is one which most of us no longer question. The process would seem straightforward. We go to the polling place, discharge our civic duty and await the results. But for many of us, the prospect of voting seems a fruitless exercise. Approximately 48% of our electorate votes, which puts us to date at the rank of 139th worldwide in terms of voter participation. There are a number of reasons for this with which we are rather familiar. Perhaps weíre disappointed in the field of candidates, we feel itís thin, Washington is awash in moneyed special interests, lobbyists and mega money donors, maybe it wonít matter anyway, the media distorts the message, etc. But there is a deeper voter–reason for voter apathy and discouragement and this is often the hidden explanation for low turnout and the perception that many will simply never be adequately represented and this we hope to explore today. In this program, we will examine a topic seldom discussed and yet a stratagem which has been with us since the early days of our Republic and that is the political technique of gerrymandering, a practice which underscores the idea that it is not simply a matter that we vote but where we vote which will determine our degree of voter representation in the political process. Welcome again, Fred, to our program.
Fred Hudson: And thank you for having me. This is a great topic.
Jan Paynter: First of all, Fred, what is meant by the term gerrymandering and give us if you would a brief history of the term.
Fred Hudson: Letís start with the history, it makes it easier. In Article I Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, theÖa census is required every 10 years so that we can elect a House of Representatives from all of the states that were involved then and are now. And it isÖthe ink was hardly dry on the signatures of the Constitution but what gerrymandering didnít rear its ugly head and start up affecting the democracy that we hold so dear. It started in Massachusetts. Gov. Elbridge Gerry was governor at that time and he wanted to control elections so he drew the districts in Massachusetts according to what his party needed so that it could win and retain control over the politics of the state. That has continued on even unto this day where gerrymandering is alive and well and with us all of the time. It is an unfortunate situation certainly because as you just pointed out in your opening part, it does affect peopleís attitude toward voting and it doesÖit hampers their interest in the process and in order for us to have a strong Republic, we have to have a strong voter base.
Jan Paynter: Indeed. In this connection, what set of criteria for people to know, is used for drawing new district boundaries and when does this process really take place?
Fred Hudson: Well, every 10 years we getÖand they are years that end in zero so we are coming up on one next year and to me this is a hidden issue in the race this year for the House of Delegates and for the Governor and the other statewide races because how those races are determined will affect the districts that are drawn that will control the members of the House of Delegates and the Senate as well as the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress until 2020. So itís very important. Youíre getting to the points about the way these thingsÖthe definitions of the wayÖwe have cracking, stacking and packing and it sounds like the Three Stooges.
Jan Paynter: It does.
Fred Hudson: But itÖand in a way it is because itís a very bad thing that we end up doing. Did youÖyou actually talkedÖbefore we started this program you actually talked about a couple of them and itís interesting to see the way that they work. Packing is an excess vote issue where we put a lot of voters of the same probability of voting into one district so that they control massively the percentage of vote that comes in and cannot be defeated. In a sense we have that in Albemarle County and in Charlottesville. In Charlottesville we have 80% of the vote that typically votes Democratic. They have put some of the precincts in the county with the 57th District that is very capably represented by David Toscano into the 57th District and those wereÖthose likewise were precincts that oftentimes voted very strongly for the Democratic candidate. Not entirely certainly but fairly much so. So as a result, we have a very large concentration of Democratic vote in the 57th District, thus rendering the Republican candidateÖthey donít even field one most of the time.
Jan Paynter: In an ideal world though, what would be the criterion that we would hope for from people to have true fairness in a breakdown.
Fred Hudson: We want to get down to the point where not one party is dramatically in control of the otherÖthe rest of the district. In the 57th, and Iíve talked to David about this myself, he would encourage more competition because he thinks it would give better representation. I happen to totally agree with him. But if we could get where there was a 50/50 split or 55/45, something that is fairly close so that one candidate would have to serve the people rather than theórather than the–just the one party or do whatever he darn well pleased.
Jan Paynter: That was going to be my next question. Is gerrymandering specific to a particular political party, is it very much a bipartisan issue, do two parties perhaps cooperate to help each other out so that they both get the piece of the pie they want?
Fred Hudson: The parties do not cooperate. What happens is is the Constitution of Virginia for example gives the right of redistricting to the legislature so therefore the unstated point of that is that it will go to the party that is in power at the legislature when the election in 2009 in this year is finished. So the party that is in control of that particular body, either the Senate or the House, will redraw their own districts.
Jan Paynter: What I was getting at was is there anyÖcause I had read a little bit about this which I thought was interesting that sometimes with incumbents thereís some horse trading back and forth. I will give you this district if perhaps you ensure that Iím elected in that one, that kind of thing, thatís what I was getting at.
Fred Hudson: Well, I wouldÖit would be hard for me to not think that that was not the case and yet that would require a horse trade being conducted by two friendly parties.
Jan Paynter: I see.
Fred Hudson: In other words, you would not get a diversion of thought or necessarily representation but you would have people with whom you could work without any trouble. I donít think thatís very good either.
Jan Paynter: Okay. Okay, thatís interesting. Does our two party system increase the possibility of gerrymandering do you think?
Fred Hudson: Absolutely because the competition is very clear and defined in that situation and so if youíre a Democrat and you control the Congress, youíre going to do everything you can to reduce the level of control that the Republicans have or vice versa. It is notÖthe Democrats are not all right on this and the Republicans are not either. It is a bad thing for both parties but most assuredly it is a bad thing for the people.
Jan Paynter: Letís get into some more of the negative results for the voter around the state because I think again, people need to know why they should care about this issue and thatís what this programís about.
Fred Hudson: Well, then letís go on. Now letís go to Albemarle County specifically for just a second. In the 58th District we have Rob Bell whoís district is comprised of the northern half of Fluvanna roughly, one precinct in Orange, all of Green and about a third of the County of Albemarle, most of which were precincts that tend to vote Republican. Now I amÖI have overstated it because there are some in his district that do not support that. So Rob Bell has essentially what appears to be a safe district. Move over to the 59th District and you have Watkins Abbitt who comes in from the Southside and he has a lot of the Samuel Miller magisterial district in his jurisdiction but thatís coupled with Appomattox County, some of Fluvanna and a little bit of Prince Edward and Buckingham and Cumberland Counties. There is no way that the effect of those voters in that district ofÖthen part of the district in Albemarle County are represented the way they think and the way they vote coupled with those people. The same thing is true with the 25th District which is on the west side. We have three precincts from the White Hall District in the 25th District. Theyíre coupled with the Valley which typically votes very conservative. They will vote for the Democratic candidate typically, the Republican candidate will win the district walking away.
Jan Paynter: I was really surprised to find out that–to me–in 2002 this amazing statistic that 91% of House members occurred at that time in non-competitive elections. Thatís truly a robbery for the voter.
Fred Hudson: In the Congress, the U.S. Congress, they perceive–a New York University law professor maintains that there are 400 safe seats out of 435.
Jan Paynter: Thatís extraordinary.
Fred Hudson: Now, that is not representation.
Jan Paynter: No. Obviously this is going to affect a Representativeís sense of accountability.
Fred Hudson: Absolutely.
Jan Paynter: Can we talk a little bit about that?
Fred Hudson: You–when you have this type of situation, youíre accountable but youíre not accountable to the people. You are–you have chosen your district and you then organized with one of the political parties so you were accountable to the specific agenda of the political party, not to the people that represented you. If you are in one of these things called packing where we were talking about that a few minutes ago, then 1% of the people in the entire district who vote in the primaries will affect that. Well, thatís not representation of the people. Thatís something that we need to avoid.
Jan Paynter: No, thatís another kind of political system altogether, isnít it?
Fred Hudson: Absolutely true.
Jan Paynter: So turnout, turnout is obviously very affected. Campaign funding, what happens with that as a result of gerrymandering?
Fred Hudson: Typically, because the sense of whoís going to win a district is at least assumed well before the district–the voting occurs, people want to be on the side of the winners so they are going to raise money–the candidate that is perceived to be the winner before thereís even a first poll run will get the funding that he or she needs and the one who is challenging him will be hard fought to get any money because people will think they are going to lose, which then creates a fait accompli situation where the candidate that is perceived to not be able to win canít win because they donít have the capacity to get their message out.
Jan Paynter: So Iím assuming that theyíll be ignoring certain districts which they think are not worth their while and that would mean also the money wouldnít flow to it if they felt that it wasnít going to benefit them.
Fred Hudson: Absolutely true.
Jan Paynter: So people basically sitting with the light out in terms of their vote.
Fred Hudson: And there again, you just mentioned something just before you led into that first question and that is that the people will not turn out because they likewise have just assumed that the vote–the vote is going to go a certain way and why should they bother to get out and vote.
Jan Paynter: So thatís a deeper reason for the voter apathy that weíre seeing beyond what we discussed at the beginning which is gerrymandering.
Fred Hudson: Oh, I think so. And you can see it if you look at the districts, for example the City of Charlottesville or some of these biggeróbigger–getting a macro view rather than a micro view. You will see that the voter turnout is actually less in some places than in other because they just donít see the need.
Jan Paynter: Well, it makes sense. Itís very discouraging for people. Who stands to benefit most from the practice of gerrymandering? Obviously incumbents do. Who are some other people who benefit from this would you say?
Fred Hudson: Well, pressure groups, specific advocates of a certain agenda that is appealing to the majority view. You get a group of people who can actually impose their agenda so long as their group is in power in a state or in the national legislatures. And when that happens, then you have government by pressure group or by industry group orÖ
Jan Paynter: Yeah, by committee really.
Fred Hudson: Yeah.
Jan Paynter: Yeah.
Fred Hudson: And itís not–there again, you do not have the people being represented and there is another view of what gerrymandering can cause.
Jan Paynter: All right, letís talk about some of the people that are disadvantaged by this process. Minorities, women, Iím sure there are many.
Fred Hudson: The disadvantage is kind of an interesting thing because that is perception as much as anything else.
Jan Paynter: How so?
Fred Hudson: Letís take–it is kind of an interesting problem. Letís take stacking for example and define that out. Where a district is drawn in odd ways to–with–as in the gerrymander of the original point that was made where they seem to be pulling in groups from all sorts of different places, using the African-American voting block which is very substantial in the State of Virginia or the Commonwealth of Virginia. You could draw a gerrymandered district which might give them as much as 85% of the vote. Well, now, the African-American community may look at that and say, ĎThatís a good thing because we get a solid representative all the timeí. On the other hand, it could be argued that if the minorities were more close to 50, then what would happen is you might have a lot more African-American representatives in the legislature because they are spread out through more districts.
Jan Paynter: Oh, okay.
Fred Hudson: Just in the same sense is that Obama won in the African-American community in the United States is not even close to 50%.
Jan Paynter: Well, this is something else I think a lot of people are wondering about. Can gerrymandering districts actually protect competition and diversity or does it preclude fairness?
Fred Hudson: It can and you have–it can work both ways. It depends upon the intent of the people that are drawing the lines. If the people are in the legislature and theyíre drawing the lines to protect themselves, then no, I donít see how that could possibly work to anybodyís advantage other than their own. On the other hand, if the intent is to go out and attempt to configure districts so that they are representative of the population in the Commonwealth or of a state, then that is okay because that–that becomes a matter of intent and Iím not sure that when you have the control vested in the party in power and youíre asking a Representative or a Delegate to actually work against their own self interest for the benefit of the state, thatís an unusual person and thatís a very–itís a very unselfish person and for them I have enormous respect.
Jan Paynter: Letís turn to some possible solutions on the political horizon. Itís been estimated that if voting were made more competitive in Virginia we could see as much as a 43% increase in voter turnout. That translates by some estimates to an increase of approximately 653,000 additional ballots being cast. This was done–there was a very fascinating study in 2008 by a gentleman named Marc Dunkelman. Now Fred, what legislation already exists or is pending in Virginia on this issue to try to take a chunk out of this monopoly essentially?
Fred Hudson: First of all, on the federal level, the Civil Rights Act of 1965 was renewed just in the last couple of years. George Bush signed it in the early part of 2006. That causes the Commonwealth to have to submit to the Justice Department its plan for reorganization. The theory behind that one being that the lines need to be drawn so that they are fair and inclusive to all the people of the Commonwealth so that no minority, no group is excluded intentionally. And thatís not pending, itís in place.
Jan Paynter: Okay.
Fred Hudson: So thatís a part of the process that will occur in 2010, the latter part of 2010. The–there were bills that were presented in the last legislative session. Creigh Deeds presented one in the Senate where it would–well, actually I have a quote here from him. It would–they were intending–it was intended to Ďmake legislative districts more compact units rather than being designed to string together precincts that vote heavily Democratic or Republicaní, which is an anti-gerrymandering thing on the basis of party. The thing–when you get contiguous though, then youíve got to be sure that you represent all the people that are in the Commonwealth and not–it can work against you but I know that if you have people who are trying to do it the right way, do it.
Jan Paynter: Well, Tim Cain–Gov. Tim Cain in 2008 had an interesting address to the Virginia Assembly and heís quoted here, I think itís very interesting. ĎOur legislative districts should be drawn with the people, not politicians, first in mind. Itís time for a bipartisan system of redistrictingí. I know that the League of Women Voters supports this, the Virginia Redistricting Coalition, obviously Creigh Deeds as you just discussed. Many people have suggested that the current and past justices would be helpful in an advisory capacity with setting up fair redistricting. What do you think about that, Fred?
Fred Hudson: Well, I think that is fine. Theyíve come from a place, training and job descriptions, of–where fairness and equal treatment were a part of their credo so I think that is a very–itís a reasonable and good suggestion. There are also bipartisan commissions that can be set up and in fact, two states have set them up, Arizona and Iowa, and the results have been very, very good where the legislatures are tending to accept the product that these commissions present to them and while nobodyís taking anything away from the legislature as far as their authority to enact the laws, as far as the drawing of the lines are concerned, they are taking those outside of the self interest of the people who are in the legislature itself.
Jan Paynter: If a citizen wants to make his or her voice heard on this issue, where should they turn? I know the University of Virginia Center for Politics is a very good place to go but there are others, I know.
Fred Hudson: Well, there are and you mentioned the League of Women Voters I believe a minute ago.
Jan Paynter: Yes.
Fred Hudson: Excellent resource. Common Cause is another very good resource and the Interfaith Council for the–Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is also another one that is very active in this front.
Jan Paynter: I know there are many faith-based organizations that are quite concerned about this.
Fred Hudson: You can also go, which is going to sound absolutely bizarre, but you can also go to your legislator.
Jan Paynter: What a concept!
Fred Hudson: Yes. And you can talk to them or the candidate that you support. Ask them, just ask them what their opinion is and if they donít support some form of bipartisan concept as far as redistricting is concerned, you have a solutionódonít vote for them. Vote for somebody else because itís good for the–itís good for you and itís good for every other citizen of the Commonwealth. The–youíve got plenty of opportunity too because I donít know if your listeners are as easy a target as I am but candidates are forever calling me to volunteer for them or to give them money or to vote for them and that is an absolutely perfect time to ask this question.
Jan Paynter: This is a perfect time of year for that because I think weíre all getting barraged by calls on both sides of the aisle and I find itís a great opportunity for, as you said, for a conversation. Perhaps not always the one they expect because it doesnít involve money.
Fred Hudson: But youíre raising the issue onto their radar screen and when you do that, youíre actually saying, ĎWe need this to changeí. And then for their own self interest, because even–whatever happens, they still want to continue so theyíre not going to abdicate their responsibility to the voter if the voter does take some form of aggressive action.
Jan Paynter: That is the key and thatís one of the reasons weíre talking about this today. Voters deserve to be allowed to participate fully in the electoral process. Robbing the public through manipulative redistricting processes and practices, basically kills off real efforts toward redistricting reform, the voter becomes muzzledóa muzzled, silent constituency of the downhearted and the disadvantaged. It is utterly and fundamentally anti-democratic. Itís no accident that lawmakers refer to putting a period on the bill which dares to aim toward basic fairness and balanced representation as killed in committee. Our voices are shot down through gerrymandered process and due to the stealthy strategies outlined by Fred here today, we never see the shot coming. District gerrymandering is the use in essence, I believe, of a legal silencer to deaden democracy. It is time for gun control on this issue. The politics of how and where our votes are counted matters. All of us share in the privilege and responsibility of keeping the voice of democracy audible. In that regard, Fred, tell us if you would some other ways in which people in the county can get more involved on this issue. Weíve talked about speaking with lawmakers. Would it be helpful to contact you? Are there others that are passionately involved in this issue?
Fred Hudson: Well, the Albemarle County Democratic Party is always passionately involved in the process of the voting part. People I think underestimate the value of their vote. In 2008, Jan, we had two absolutely extraordinary examples of the value of citizen participation. The 5th Congressional District was perceived to be a safe district for Virgil Goode. I donít think Mr. Goode is currently our Representative because people stood up and voted. The second one is Barak Obama. Barak Obama carried the Commonwealth and thatís the first time we had carried the Commonwealth as a Democrat–with a Democrat since 1964. Thatís people actually taking control of their–of the process and exercising their rights so the downhearted, disappointed, frustrated voter who says, ĎI donít–it doesnít make any difference what I doí, itís just not the right way to go about it. We need to vote, we need to vote every election, make sure our voice is heard and as our voice is heard we will take back the control of the government that is ours to operate.
Jan Paynter: Well, I couldnít agree more, Fred. I want to thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with us today. You have a political radio program, Albemarle Political Corner. Tell us a little bit about that and what days and times we may expect to listen.
Fred Hudson: Itís on WVAX which is 1450 at 9:00 on Saturday mornings and 1170 or 1070 WINA at 10:00 on Saturday morning.
Jan Paynter: Great. Thank you so much for being with us today. We want to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. Until next time, Iím Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters.