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. I’m Jan Paynter and I want to welcome you once again to our program Politics Matters. We are privileged to welcome as our guest today Fred Hudson, Second Vice Chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. Welcome, Fred.
Fred Hudson: Thank you, Jan. It’s nice to be here.
Jan Paynter: Fred Hudson is a lawyer who earned his JD from American University in 1969. After graduating from law school, he served on the staff of U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas until his defeat in a reelection bid in 1970.
After that Fred joined a small insurance company and rose through the company ranks to become Executive Vice President. He retired in 1996 and moved to Virginia after having lived in many parts of the United States throughout his career. Fred Hudson has been extensively involved in party politics holding many positions within the Democratic Party from Precinct Chair to Albemarle County Party Chair to 5th Congressional District Committee Member and Chair. He currently serves as Second Vice Chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. He is also a member of both Association of State Democratic Chairs and the Democratic National Committee. Fred Hudson and his wife reside in Albemarle County. 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, as we just did this November, discharge our civic duty and await the results but for many of us the prospect of voting seems a disheartening exercise. Approximately 48 percent of our electorate votes, which puts us to date at a rank of 139th worldwide in terms of voter participation. Now of course there are a number of reasons for this with which most of us are all too familiar. Perhaps we’re disappointed in the field of candidates from which we have to choose, Washington is awash in moneyed special interests including among other things lobbyists and mega money donors, the media distorts the message, etc. But there’s also a deeper reason for voter apathy and discouragement and it is this hidden explanation for low voter turnout and the perception that many will simply never be adequately represented which we need to focus on now. This brings us to 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 the degree of voter representation in our political process. Today, therefore, I would like to begin our discussion with Fred by looking briefly at the history and general definition of redistricting and gerrymandering. From there we’ll look at the issue as it specifically affects Virginians while also exploring available pathways to problem solution. Focusing on the importance of voter rights will also be a key part of our conversation together. When it comes to the issue of redistricting and gerrymandering, understandably most of us have difficulty grasping the nature or extent of the problem let alone given current political realities what we can realistically achieve in order to create a more fair and level playing field of representation for people at both ends of the partisan divide. As we’ve just completed another election cycle, we felt it might be appropriate to have this conversation now and Fred is just the man to help us find our way through the forest toward an understanding of this often daunting topic. Welcome again, Fred.
Fred Hudson: Well, thank you very much and before we get really underway here, let me just say that I’m here really as a private person. I’m not here as either a Democrat or as an officer of the state party. I’m here as Fred Hudson, an intensely interested resident of Albemarle County in the political process.
Jan Paynter: Well, that’s exactly what we like and of course you have great experience so we’re excited about this talk today with you. 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: Gerrymandering is an illegal form or an invalid form of redistricting and it comes about typically by—to the benefit of the party in power or a particular person that is capable of drawing the districts so that they are done in a way either politically or to disenfranchise other people so that it will ultimately accrue to the benefit of the people that are drawing the districts. Gerrymandering is—started back in the 1700s. Our own Patrick Henry, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, redrew the districts putting Monroe and Madison—Madison was his adversary—into the same district which then caused a—to get rid of Madison was his intent and unfortunately for Patrick Henry, Madison won the election and ultimately as we all know became President of the United States. But it didn’t hurt Monroe particularly because he followed Madison in the presidency so I don’t know if Patrick Henry was happy or not happy with the ultimate result but he got it and I doubt that he and Madison were ever very good friends after that.
Jan Paynter: In this connection, what set of criteria is used in drawing the new district boundaries and when does the process take place?
Fred Hudson: The criteria has changed over the years as you well might expect. There are actually two bases that are done and the Supreme Court, by the way, did not get involved in it for years, frankly until 1960 because they considered it a political act and as a political act the Legislature should be the ones that were in control of the process, which makes perfect sense from a legal point of view. On the other hand, the—when the Equal Rights Amendment passed and became an issue with the racial discrimination that began to emerge as a country issue at that point, it—they began to accept the cases and they divided the solutions between political and discriminating against people. For example, if—let’s take the 5th Congressional District for a minute on that. The shape of the district, which used to be the trigger on whether it was an important thing or not, really was never something very important because the shape did not necessarily promote the fact that a group of people had been disenfranchised or in any way impaired. The 5th Congressional District stretches from the North Carolina border all the way up to almost the border with Maryland and if shape was a problem, it’s a huge district shaped virtually like a pyramid and if again, if shape were an issue then it would have been a problem with the reviews of the type of district that it was. But on the other hand, there was a case back in the—in 1962 in Tennessee where a—districts were created and in one instance there was a relatively small population of rural farmers and then the entire community of Memphis was another district so the African-American percentage in the Memphis area was huge and it had one representative. The representative in that rural area was one and it was done by a relatively few number of people.
Jan Paynter: I see.
Fred Hudson: That discriminated against the African-American community in Richmond and it emerged—what emerged from it was the one man, one vote concept that is one of the governing propositions of redistricting or gerrymandering questions now.
Jan Paynter: Fred, what are some other examples of negative results of gerrymandering? Obviously reducing two party competition is one. What are some other ones?
Fred Hudson: Candidates. When competitive districts do not exist—and I can go to the State Board of Elections for example and get the election data from years past and it’s obvious that the Republicans or the Democrats, either one, are out polling the other party by substantial numbers—you know that the probabilities of you winning as an—as a candidate from the less popular party will be very, very difficult. I don’t care how good a candidate you are. And so as a result, if you have competitive districts, then you have a better choice of candidates than you would if you have an uncompetitive environment. You cannot tell me that there are not enumerable people in Albemarle County and in Charlottesville that would not love to be a member of the House of Delegates or the State Senate. And yet, there was no contested race in Albemarle County this year, none. And yet Terry McAuliffe, the governor-elect, outpolled the Republican candidates in Albemarle County. That does not make sense.
Jan Paynter: Fred, what is meant by the gerrymandering term packing?
Fred Hudson: Well, packing is an act by typically the party in power to pack all people of a suspected voting pattern or orientation and it’s used mostly in racial terms so that you pack people by virtue of the way the district lines are drawn into a specific district and thus you get—you get the majority of or the—of those people in the area into a single district, you sign off on the district, they win it and you have the rest of the districts in more acceptable to the party in power’s political position.
Jan Paynter: So that’s what’s meant by majority/minority district.
Fred Hudson: To a large extent, that’s the way the term has evolved.
Jan Paynter: I see.
Fred Hudson: And legislatures are the ones most favorable to the majority/minority districts but they have to be a little bit careful then to not be so obvious about it that it becomes an issue for the courts.
Jan Paynter: Oh, sure.
Fred Hudson: They certainly don’t want to have it going to the courts and to some extent those are still done today and they are passed by the Justice Department or any court challenges because they are considered to be nondiscriminatory in the total sense. You’ve put the state together, they’re approximately the right population base for—to have one representative or two representatives or whatever and they are then permitted because there’s no appearance of discrimination. If they can pass that muster, then they will be acceptable.
Jan Paynter: Who stands to benefit most would you say from the practice of gerrymandering?
Fred Hudson: The people or party that’s in power. That’s where—that is the very, very simple answer and yet it’s the one. They draw the districts, they are in control of the drawing of the districts and they draw them for their own self—for their own benefit. Now, it’s not logical for you to have the political process drawing the district lines for their—for their reelections. That’s—that is—that’s just borderline stupid so what we have to do is we have to make it so that the restricting decisions are taken out of the political process and the Virginia Constitution says that the State Legislature will be in control of the redistricting decisions. And with that you’ve made it so that you’ve allowed people who is—it is in their self-interest to draw district lines which will protect the incumbent.
Jan Paynter: Well, I know there have been many attempts to address this issue. In February of 2012 a bill was defeated which would have mandated nonpartisan redistricting, the commission, and then in January of ’13 there was a proposed constitutional amendment for bipartisan redistricting likewise defeated. This is something that do you see in future we might actually get some traction for some meaningful redistricting reform?
Fred Hudson: Possibly. There’s two places where that might occur. One is Terry McAuliffe, the governor-elect has taken a position that a change of the redistricting process is an appropriate thing for them to do. So we have a governor that’s engaged, with all due respect to current Governor Bob McDonald. He also took that position.
Jan Paynter: He did.
Fred Hudson: But now what happened is when it came down to doing something about it though, Governor McDonald did not really act on the nonpartisan commission that he appointed himself, he just ignored their findings and allowed the Legislature to do what they needed to do.
Jan Paynter: I see.
Fred Hudson: And the proverbial jury is still out on Governor-Elect McAuliffe and hopefully he will take decisive action and help the process and actually get behind it and really push it.
Jan Paynter: Well, I know he—possibly there’ll be a working relationship between Bill Bowling and Terry McAuliffe. They seem somewhat likeminded on seeing a need for reform. I read something interesting by a gentleman named Sam Wang who’s a founder of the Princeton Election Consortium and he proposed a two prong approach to the solution. I’m curious what you think about this. The first thing was to establish a nonpartisan commission in all 50 states and then also the second thing was to adopt strict judicial standard for partisan gerrymandering. What do you make of that as a possible solution?
Fred Hudson: Point 1 about the redistricting commissions, it’s really the only solution. If you continue to use the political process as a way of redistricting, we will never be able to extract ourselves from this continuing series of problems. Now currently there are six states I believe that are—that have redistricting commissions, nonpartisan commissions. I had the opportunity recently to talk to the Representative from Iowa who has one and he said it works absolutely beautifully and that the group that does the selection or the—our Division of Legislative Services would be the counterpart. It’s the group that operates in between the two parties in the Legislature and does things for them which they have to work with both sides so in effect it’s about as nonpartisan as you can get. There can be some tweaking by the people involved, the elected officials, because they know their districts very, very well. On the other hand, they would not be the ones who would have the ultimate final decision. So there are ways to do this that are not difficult and would not abandon the elected officials completely. And the second part of your question is equally as important. The courts have not been definitive to all parts of what they expect from the redistricting patterns that are established. There’s another—one other little point here that anything that the process has created from the nonpartisan commissions should have a speedy court review process placed so that these questions are reviewed and finished before it takes so much time to get them finally resolved.
Jan Paynter: Oh, that makes sense. What legislation already exists, Fred, or is pending in the Virginia Legislature on this issue?
Fred Hudson: Since we are in between legislatures and there is—there’s a brand new, theoretically, House of Represent—or House of Delegates coming into Richmond in a few weeks, the answer to your question is none. So what will happen is, anything that is started will start—I believe that the convening date is January the 8th and it will start after that. But hopefully there will be activities that can be put into place and are under way at that point and we can start some process on that. We have to amend the Constitution in order to do this and it’s going to take a couple of years to finish that process.
Jan Paynter: Oh, I would think at least. Fred, talk a little bit about the role that the Virginia Redistricting Coalition plays in working toward fair voter district representation.
Fred Hudson: Well, that is—any commission that is working toward trying to provide an outline of how to do this is wonderful. There’s no question about that. But ultimately it’s going to be voters that step up and get engaged in this, both Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and people who have no party affiliation to get their Representatives, Delegates, and their State Senators to—and the governor-elect as well and the rest of them—to step up and get started on doing this and making it happen. It’s ultimately got to be the voter engagement but when you look at 42-1/2 percent that are voting last time, the possibilities of that are going to require people like you on this program and an awful lot of other people out there trying to motivate the voter to get out and do what they need to do which is take control of their government again and the processes that are involved in their government.
Jan Paynter: Well, I know another group that’s been very active and interested in this is the League of Women Voters which you and I have discussed before. So Fred, in your view, do you think it will ever be feasible to separate partisanship from the redistricting process given the increasing geographical polarization that exists between the two parties?
Fred Hudson: That’s a hard one because we are almost—we are almost self-packing ourselves or self-gerrymandering ourselves with the way our population moves along. I had the pleasure of living in another country several years ago and there the population base—they have allowed great immigration and the population base is actually clustering and you are getting that very same thing happening kind of almost automatically. With the immigration debate that we are having in this country right now or probably more appropriately said the lack of debate that we’re having in this country right now, the fact is that we are going to get that result with the Hispanic group and with the African-American group perhaps but not as much in my guesstimation but we’re already beginning to see it with the oriental clustering in Northern Virginia and you’re going to see that happen and it will become a problem with these packing and the issues that surround the—how do we represent—how do we get those people represented in a meaningful way as we move along.
Jan Paynter: Yeah. There’s a very interesting article by Alan Greenblatt called “Can Redistricting Ever be Fair”, which came out in November ’11 and he cites an author, Bill Bishop, who notes that people appear to be moving to places where they find those who look, think, act and vote like they do in the great book called Big Sort. Greenblatt goes on to note that people pick up on the cultural clues—and you’re eluding to this—that suggest areas where they think they’d be most comfortable. So this is another issue that people probably need to be talking about.
Fred Hudson: Well, and it just lends more credence to your point a minute ago or I should say Professor Wang’s where he said that we need clear court guidelines as we move along here because with the immigration the way the world is changing, the immigration into this country is going to be such that we are going to have increasingly difficult problems as we move along through the next decades. It’s going to be much more fragmented than that and thus much more complex.
Jan Paynter: Different universes of thought clustering together so it is quite interesting and challenging.
Fred Hudson: Well, you’re seeing that exact same thing happen in West Texas, the western part of Texas. The Hispanic group is probably within the next 10 years going to be a majority in western Texas and what are they going to do? How are they going to make that all come together and fit?
Jan Paynter: Oh, I see. I see. If a citizen, Fred, wants to make his or her voice heard on the issue, where are some good places for them to turn?
Fred Hudson: When the redistricting process begins, transparency will be a huge part of the requirement of any group trying to put together a plan, whatever the—however the nonpartisan commission takes shape, it will require an enormous amount of public input. That is going to be the place to do it. As a private citizen, I’m sure that right now they would say, ‘Well, there’s not a chance of anybody even reading my mail.’ But at the same time, a year from now, if we’re lucky and we get this process started, then that—the nonpartisan commission will—around the Commonwealth—will be holding hearings, as they did the last time in all fairness. And they will collect an awful lot of input and data from the people that will appear before them and speak.
Jan Paynter: Which means people need to write, email their lawmakers–
Fred Hudson: Absolutely.
Jan Paynter: –make their voices heard on this issue.
Fred Hudson: We’re back to voter participation.
Jan Paynter: Absolutely. Absolutely. I would like to thank our guest today, Fred Hudson, for so generously giving of his time to enlarge our understanding of the impact and implications of redistricting on the democratic process both for Virginia and for the nation as a whole. Fred, thank you so much for doing this. This was a pleasure and very, very good learning experience for me.
Fred Hudson: Oh, it’s always good to talk about redistricting.
Jan Paynter: Thank you at home for joining our conversation. If you would like more information concerning the topic under discussion today, we invite you to take a look at our website at politicsmatters.org. We will be posting a number of books, articles and relevant links on many of the issues under discussion today there for you. You will also find a complete archive of all prior Politics Matters broadcasts which you may watch in their entirety at any time. We’ll also be posting extended versions of the interviews online as well and we will continue to be adding and updating more content. As always, we are very interested in hearing from you with any ideas, questions and concerns for future programs. We encourage you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are on PBS WVPT on the last Sunday of every month at 11:30 am. Thank you again and until next time, I’m Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters.