The Potemkin Commission, Part II: Transparency Is For Peasants

A few weeks ago, I noted that “Draw The Line Minnesota” – a liberal astroturf group floated by fellow liberal astroturf groups Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Take Action Minnesota and the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits, but which nonetheless protests that it is “non-partisan”- had convened a “Citizens Commission” to take public testimony on redistricting.

Kent Kaiser, one of the members of that commission, is speaking up.  In a letter sent to the judicial Special Redistricing Panel, Kaiser notes the Potemkin nature of the “citizens commission” and, much more importantly, hammers the lack of “transparency” in a process run by a bunch of groups who support “transparency for ye, but not for we”.

The full letter is displayed below the jump.  I’m going to pull some money quotes, and add a bit of emphasis.

Kaiser cuts to the chase fast.  Many critics of the “Draw The Line” process have noted that it served, essentially, as the DFL’s map-drawing process (which, by the way, the DFL never actually did; the DFL caucus submitted no map proposal, despite having a fully-budgeted redistricting office).

Kaiser points out that that seems to be the case:

 Based on my experiences with Draw the Line over the past several months, I urge the Panel to reject the map submitted to the Panel by Draw the Line because the map drawing process was secretive and flawed and ultimately resulted in a partisan map that fails to reflect the objective demographic shifts that have occurred in Minnesota over the past decade. I think that because of its high number of incumbent legislator pairings and because it pairs only Republican members of Congress, the map is too likely to benefit the Democratic Party.

And “Draw The Line’s palaver about “transparency?”:

I am especially concerned that we commission members were not allowed sufficient time or access to the map to critique it objectively or to determine its implications before we were led to approve it..

…While I believe our commission did good work in agreeing on a set of principles for redistricting and in trying to get the public involved in the process, I am concerned that the process used in producing a map was ultimately no better than the State Legislature’s process. I know that I am not the only commission member to think this way.

Bear in mind that Kaiser wasn’t condemning the Legislature’s process; on “The Late Debate” a few weeks ago, he noted that the Legislture’s map adhered to the letter and spirit of the body of law that’s grown up around redistricting in the past forty-odd years in Minnesota.

Not to speak for Kaiser – he does that just fine himself – but I think the point is that for all “Draw The Line”‘s rhetoric, they are really just another partisan effort – and, in this case, one that actually yielded nakedly partisan results:

In a documented email sent to all commission members and staff, another commission member (of unknown political affiliation) voiced concern over the commission’s process, when he was stifled from discussing map alternatives in the last of our meetings. I quote directly from the email here:

The quote is in the full email; it notes that the “Draw The Line” map was, in short, pretty blatantly gerrymandered and, more importantly, was completely at odds with what “Draw The Line” claimed was the “Citizen’s Commission”‘s purported mission; they delivered one map:

‘ With one map, the committee had only one choice. That, of course, is not a choice. And the false claim that it was a committee drawn or even a committee guided map, I could not in good conscious endorse…

I’ve been calling it “the Potemkin Commission”.  That may have been unfair – but it’s pretty clear that the map is a Potemkin Map, delivered under false, trumped-up pretenses.

Despite the committee’s purported dedication to be open and transparent, the  most important part of the map drawing process—the map drawing itself—was notably not open and not transparent, even to the committee members. It was

done in private, “behind closed doors” as Draw the Line’s website puts it, by one or two persons with occasional contributions by some committee members. This is no improvement over the legislature.

The result speaks for itself. The committee’s website says the system is broken. The map the committee ultimately endorsed is substantially similar to the map that the broken process produced ten years ago. That is a severe indictment against the committee’s work in the committee’s own terms.

All of “Draw The Line”‘s talk of “transparency” and “openness” is so much baked wind.

Kaiser continues:

Maps are captivating. They are impressive and persuasive just by virtue of their pictorial nature. Yet our commission has said time and time again, and especially after analyzing our map’s high number of “pairings” of legislators, that our principles could fit many maps, and I hope the Panel will not be persuaded that our commission’s map is the best at applying our own principles, especially inasmuch as it was rushed through production and exposed to little critique or tweaking.

And – let us not forget – painstakingly hidden from public view until the last possible moment, which was last Friday, the deadline for submission to the courts.

More tomorrow.

Gary Gross also writes about Kaiser’s letter.

Here’s Kaiser’s letter:


Minnesota Special Redistricting Panel

6 thoughts on “The Potemkin Commission, Part II: Transparency Is For Peasants

  1. I question the Constitutional authority of either the Governor or the Courts in matters concerning redistricting. While I’m not a lawyer, I am able to read. The MN Constitution seems clear:

    “Article IV Sec. 3. CENSUS ENUMERATION APPORTIONMENT; CONGRESSIONAL AND LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT BOUNDARIES; SENATE DISTRICTS. At its first session after each enumeration of the inhabitants of this state made by the authority of the United States, the legislature shall have the power to prescribe the bounds of congressional and legislative districts.”

    Nearly all of you might react to this by saying, “But the Governor has the right to apporove or veto all bills passed by the Legislature.”

    My response is “Yeah, except for when he doesn’t.” Consider this section:

    “Article III Section 1. DIVISION OF POWERS. The powers of government shall be divided into three distinct departments: legislative, executive and judicial. No person or persons belonging to or constituting one of these departments shall exercise any of the powers properly belonging to either of the others except in the instances expressly provided in this constitution.”

    The powers of redistricting were expressly granted to the Legislative body. The Governor, nor the courts, are given a role.

    To further buttress this argument, consider this section:

    “Article IV Sec. 24. PRESENTATION OF ORDERS, RESOLUTIONS, AND VOTES TO GOVERNOR. Each order, resolution or vote requiring the concurrence of the two houses except such as relate to the business or adjournment of the legislature shall be presented to the governor and is subject to his veto as prescribed in case of a bill.”

    As we see, there are exceptions to the power of the Governor to veto as they “relate to the business… of the Legislature.”

    It is my position that the MN Constitution has made redistricting the “business” of the Legislature.

  2. It is my position that in the future you should be required to place quotes around the word “Potemkin”.
    That is all.

  3. Pingback: The Potemkin Commission, Part III: In The Bag | Shot in the Dark

  4. Pingback: Draw The Line’s Redistricting Commission: A Fair Trial Followed By A Swift Execution | Shot in the Dark

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