Gerrymandering Keeps Gun Lobby Pawns in Office

Virginia is a purple state. Its statewide elected offices—governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general—are all held by Democrats. To the casual observer or someone outside Virginia politics, one would expect the Democrats to also hold, at the very least, a slim majority in the General Assembly. They would be wrong. Not only do Republicans hold the majority in the assembly, but they hold an overwhelming majority. 

As in states like North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Indiana, to name just a few of the most egregious offenders, Virginia Republicans hold artificial control of the Legislature thanks to gerrymandering. While Democrats were asleep at the switch in 2010, the Koch brothers’ money quietly engineered this coup, and they were able to cheaply buy elections in rural areas like Virginia’s 9th District. Tea Party darling Morgan Griffith was the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of their Citizens United dollars. Even he was surprised he’d unseated a popular incumbent, and the Koch brothers saw it as an enormous return on a comparatively small investment.

03_18_guns_02 A protester carries a mobile with angels to represent victims of gun violence outside the National Rifle Association's headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, on December 14, 2015. Reuters

Now, thanks to gerrymandering, statehouses across the country are carved into districts so skewed it would be almost impossible for a Democrat to win (and the other way around in a few rare cases). Maps of many of the districts look like snakes and toilet bowls. If every Democrat in the district voted and a good number of Republicans stayed home, it still wouldn’t make a difference. It’s why 79 out of 140 seats in the 2015 Virginia state election were uncontested. It was even worse in the House of Delegates, where 62 out of 100 of the races only had one name on the ballot. 

I recently made peace with Governor Terry McAuliffe after our public disagreement on his compromise gun bill last year. Those of us in the gun violence prevention movement saw it as a capitulation to National Rifle Association-backed Republicans. Even though we had our differences on that one piece of legislation, the governor has been a champion for our side. Thankfully, he continues to veto dangerous garbage passed by the craven gun lobby pawns in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. 

I had some interesting takeaways from our meeting. The governor wanted to get his arms around how the various gun violence prevention groups worked together. I didn’t have much of an answer for him because it’s a question I’ve been asking since the day my daughter Alison was killed. One NRA. Multiple GVP groups. We talked about fair redistricting and One Virginia 2021’s effort toward that goal.

I came to the conclusion that unless we get redistricting done through the courts, we’ll never be able to do anything on guns. It wasn’t going to happen through the General Assembly. The place is filled with Tea Partiers who will never change their minds as long as they get a check from the NRA. Their districts are stacked with voters who believe the Earth is flat. They know even if Jesus Christ returned and ran against them as a Democrat, they’d still win. 

03_18_guns_08 Author Andy Parker and his wife, Barbara, get a thumbs-up from an activist as they take part in a protest and vigil against gun violence on the third anniversary of Connecticut's Sandy Hook mass shooting, outside the National Rifle Association's headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, on December 14, 2015. Reuters

A Democratic state senator friend told me recently that there are no moderate Republicans left anymore. “There are only two kinds now,” he said. “The crazy ones and the ones pretending to be crazy.” Some of the pretenders used to be moderate and reasonable. But thanks to redistricting, they have nowhere to go but further to the right. “I’ve had Republican colleagues tell me, ‘I’d love to work with you on guns, but if I do I’ll get ‘Cantored,’” he said, referring to Eric Cantor’s defeat at the hands of the Tea Party’s Dave Brat. And this is what goes on not just in Virginia but nationwide. 

So as Everytown for Gun Safety, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Moms Demand Action, the Newtown Action Alliance, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence et al. keep advocating and shaming the cowards who want guns everywhere, I’ve come to realize that the only way to make a significant dent on issues like guns, health care, climate change or the laundry list under assault by those “crazy or pretending to be” is vote them the hell out of office. 

Even with the groundswell of anger, it will not realistically happen unless we get redistricting, and with the intractability of Republicans, it will happen only through the courts. With that in mind, I encourage not just GVP organizations but all with a stake in a better, safer country to come together as one to bring lawsuits (as Virginia has done) and fight for nonpartisan redistricting. It addresses McAuliffe’s question about GVP groups working in unity. In the process, perhaps we can liberate moderate Republicans so they may be moderate again—so long as they are not already extinct. Without redistricting, trying to elect a Democrat in a gerrymandered district is truly Einstein’s definition of insanity.  

Andy Parker is the father of Virginia journalist Alison Parker, who was fatally shot on live TV in August 2015.

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