Endangered Dems Sound Alarms about Redistricting

January 18, 2011 - 6:33 PM

Cleveland (AP) - While most Democratic lawmakers are staying quiet about the looming threat that congressional redistricting poses to their seats, a few are sounding alarm bells and asking voters for help keeping their jobs.

One Massachusetts lawmaker has already announced his intention to run again, and at least one New York representative is signaling a readiness to fight. But Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is making the most noise as he enters his eighth term by actively shopping around for a new district.

"I will not wait until a new Ohio map is produced to begin this crucial discussion of the consequences of congressional redistricting," Kucinich, who was first elected in 1996, wrote in an e-mail to his constituents last month, exhorting them to weigh in with suggestions and advice. "The question will not be: Who is my opponent? The question will be: Where is my district? Seriously."

Ten states will lose at least one congressional district this year, and speculation is growing over which districts will disappear.

Tim Storey, senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, cautioned that it's too early to forecast which seats may be lost. Detailed Census figures that will be rolled out in coming months will be the most crucial factor in determining population shifts, he said.

Kucinich's public push is unusual for a lawmaker who might be in trouble, though it's unclear whether either tactic makes much difference in the end, said Justin Buchler, a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

"It could be that they hope by staying quiet they will stay off of people's radars," Buchler said. "It could also be that they hope that staying quiet will prevent them from alienating the people redrawing district lines. Nobody likes a whiner."

The actual redistricting process is so messy in part because the rules are different in every state. But it will probably be most rancorous in Ohio and New York, the states that are slated to lose two congressional seats each due to population loss. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are losing one seat each.

In Ohio, the Republican-controlled Legislature will draw the state's new map; GOP Gov. John Kasich will need to sign off on it. The state's Democrats lost five of their 10 U.S. House seats in November, with the remaining districts tightly packed into an area of northern Ohio that stretches from Toledo through Cleveland and farther east into Youngstown.

"I may be more proactive on this question than any other member right now," Kucinich acknowledged in a telephone interview with The Associated Press last week. "But I've got a different situation, because Ohio is losing two seats and the Legislature is Republican."

The most popular prediction is that his district will be split up between Democratic Reps. Marcia Fudge, who represents parts of downtown Cleveland, and Betty Sutton, who represents the Akron area. Kucinich could then challenge one of them, most likely Sutton, in the 2012 Democratic primary.

Sutton declined to comment on a possible primary challenge by Kucinich, saying in an e-mail to the AP that redistricting will play itself out. Kucinich refused to say whether he would consider a potential run against one of his colleagues in order to keep his political career alive.

In New York, members of the state's Republican-controlled state Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly are legally tasked with drawing the new districts. But for members of Congress nervous about saving their seats, lobbying state lawmakers might not do much good this time.

Several legislators, as well as new Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have endorsed an effort by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch to create an independent redistricting commission. Such efforts have generally flamed out in the past, but widespread public disgust with New York's dysfunctional state government has given new credibility to Koch's crusade.

Strategists believe two Buffalo-Rochester area districts are ripe for consolidation this time. The 27th District, held by Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins, and the 28th District, held by Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter, have bled more residents than other parts of the state.

Slaughter released a statement last month after New York was notified it would lose two seats, hinting she was ready to fight for her district.

"In the same week that we received this bad news, we've seen progress in Niagara Falls, new development in the city of Buffalo and a major reshaping of Rochester's downtown core is in the works," Slaughter wrote.

The looming loss of one seat in Massachusetts has raised the possibility of intra-party fratricide, as the governor and the majority of legislators tasked with redrawing the map are all Democrats.

The delegation's oldest member, 74-year-old Rep. John Olver, has already staked out his turf, saying he will seek re-election. He also represents the far-western part of the state, making it hard to construct a district that would eliminate him.

To date, speculation has focused on Rep. Barney Frank, who faced a tougher-than-expected re-election battle. Frank had been chairman of the House Financial Services Committee until this month, but with the Democrats losing the House majority, he has lost his chairmanship.

Perhaps the easiest resolution for Massachusetts Democrats is to turn the tables on Republicans. That would require a Democratic legislator to give up a seat in favor of challenging Republican Sen. Scott Brown for re-election in 2012.

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Associated Press writers John Seewer in Toledo, Beth Fouhy in New York and Glen Johnson in Boston contributed to this report.