Kelly Ward Burton talks with our hosts about what it’s like to be President of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC). Together with her boss former Attorney General Eric Holder, Kelly is PISSED about redistricting and has chosen to do something about it! She lays out a comprehensive redistricting plan to achieve fair maps. Listen to this podcast and find out how you can and have to get involved!
Prior to NDRC, Kelly served four years as the Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and previously as the DCCC’s Political Director and Director of Incumbent Protection.
All episodes begin and end with the 2017 single “Rise” by rock group Betty (www.hellobetty.com)
Gerrymandering is cheating, y’all.Kelly Ward Burton, 11:37
In this episode:
The hosts open with what they’re pissed about (01:38)
Sherrye introduces Kelly Burton (04:47)
Kelly talks about the NDRC’s plan of action for the midterm elections (06:29)
Why we still need to have hope and do the work (08:37)
A definition of gerrymandering (11:35)
The Hosts Start by Sharing What They’re Pissed About
Carol is pissed about Ohio police officers shooting a 25-year-old Black man, Jayland Walker, after a traffic stop.
Sherrye is pissed about the statistic that more than 220 people were killed by gun violence over the July 4th weekend, including the seven who died at the 4th of July parade in Illinois. She’s additionally pissed that the Supreme Court made it easier for people to carry weapons of war on their person.
Betty Spence is pissed about what’s at stake for women whose pregnancies are not normal. She cites an article written by a physician who specializes in abnormal pregnancy, and it’s clear that anti-abortion laws will not just affect those actively seeking abortion. These laws will also make it difficult for physicians to step in to save the life of the pregnant person until the very last moment. Sometimes, that will be too late.
A Quick Definition of Gerrymandering
In this country, it’s mandated that states redistrict lines every 10 years based on the Census. It’s supposed to ensure numerical equality so that all districts have the same population. Gerrymandering is manipulating the process to draw the lines in such a way that the outcome is predetermined no matter what the voters do.
This slicing and dicing of districts dilutes the power of some voters and gives more power to other voters in order to ensure the outcomes. Gerrymandering is almost always done on the backs of people of color in order to intentionally dilute the impact of that voting populous. Thus, not only is fighting gerrymandering important for ensuring our democracy, it’s also a huge civil rights issue.
Check out this video from “The Washington Post” for a visual breakdown.
Kelly Burton’s Mission with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC)
The organization is working to elect common-sense, pro-democracy state and local candidates, as well as non-partisan judges.
The “New York Times” published this article about how the reproductive justice will now have a different battleground. Strategic shift in bid to gain abortion rights: State and Local Focus
State legislatures are incredibly significant, and it’s critical to have representation in the state legislatures since the Supreme Court and the Republican party are making coordinated moves to consolidating power and decision into the states and particularly into the state legislatures.
What is the NDRC Doing?
The NDRC has always focused on state legislatures and down-ballot races because the policies that affect citizens’ lives, including access to reproductive rights and gun laws, are largely made at the state level. When you have an elected body that it out of touch with what the people want, you see these extreme laws and inability to solve problems. This is why the government is moving further and further away from what the people want.
A major way that NDRC is trying to fix that is to combat Republican gerrymandering that locks in power because of the maps such that the voters can’t hold their elected officials accountable. They’ve been doing this work for years, and they’ve now expanded their strategy to really shine a spotlight on all statewide races.
If we don’t work hard every day to make sure that people who believe in democracy, who believe in reproductive freedom, who believe in these issues that we all believe are in those offices, we will continue to see state governments move further and further to the right and further out of touch with the public.Kelly Ward Burton, 08:37
While NDRC says that 75% of states have fair maps, the 25% remaining states with unfair maps are big, important states, like:
In these states, there has already been problematic legislation, and due to the large population in these states, millions are affected. Kelly discusses correlation that is found in these maps: the more extreme the gerrymandering, the more extreme the laws in those states.
The cruel irony of the Dobbs decision is that one supposed argument for turning this right back to the states is that the decisions will be made by elected officials supposedly in line with what the citizens want. But in 25% of states with gerrymandered maps, that’s fundamentally not true. These legislators are inoculated from voter accountability, and that’s going to lead to more and more extreme legislation in those states.
The NDRC’s 17 Critical States
On the NDRC’s website, they’ve identified “Democracy Targets” and how voters can help:
The NDRC will play a major role in protecting American democracy by launching an extensive electoral program to defend the state and relevant local level offices critical to our democracy. These are elections for offices that are crucial for protecting and strengthening our democracy, including state supreme courts so neutral arbiters remain on the bench, secretaries of state so top election officials are committed to conducting free and fair elections, as well as governors and state legislators who are champions of fair maps and can provide critical firewalls against Republicans’ anti-democracy agenda.NDRC Website
Carol discussed some criticism of the Democratic party that states the Democrats haven’t been paying enough attention to these races all along. NDRC launched in 2017 after the election of Donald Trump, shining a spotlight on redistricting. The 2016 election caused recognition of the importance of these races and created an ecosystem to support down-ballot candidates from the traditional party infrastructure like the DLCC to Future Now, which is helping candidates run for local races. But there’s absolutely more work to do.
Hope is party of the strategy because the demoralization and disengagement is part of their strategy.Kelly Ward Burton (21:34)
It’s not too late, and Kelly implores all of our listeners to use democracy to save democracy. Things like abortion access are tangible for citizens across the board, and it will activate citizens across the board.
Judges Matter, Too
The NDRC focuses on judges, as well. In a lot of states, judges are elected as non-partisan. This can lead to confusion for voters on what a judge would support or not. However, some states are moving to add more transparency to judge elections.
Stacking state courts with conservative judges will ensure that when organizations like the ACLU bring legal action against the state, the judges will rule in favor of the state and re-enforce these extreme policies. Eric Holder, founder of the NDRC, is a champion of court reform and said this after the Dobbs decision came down:
This week, the Supreme Court cemented the fact that it is wildly out of touch with the American people and heretofore guiding legal principles. A significant majority of Americans agree that gun safety measures protect the constitutional rights and lives of our people, and that women should have the right to choose. Yet the Court’s majority – most of whom were nominated by Presidents who lost the popular vote – is forcing through its own particular and peculiar vision of America to make our communities less safe and to take away essential women’s rights. Mark my words, this radical Court majority will deliver more of the same. These decisions are a function of Court personnel and not legal principle. This is an extremely dangerous precedent.Eric Holder
Kelly discusses that the courts can and should change with time. The Supreme Court is not an intractable entity within our democracy that can’t be changed because that’s just not true. We don’t have to accept that premise. Eric Holder wrote a book called “Our Unfinished March,” and it’s a great source of inspiration for those who feel that the odds are insurmountable. We have only made progress by refusing to believe that change is too hard to make. Kelly asks us to stand on the shoulders of past leaders who fought and won.
What to Expect From this Supreme Court
I think we should expect this court to be terrible, and we should expect a drumbeat of terrible-ness every cycle.Kelly Ward Burton (33:41)
The Supreme Court has signaled that it will hear cases that will further strip away the rights of citizens, like overturning Obergefell v. Hodges, which created the fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry and cases around contraception. Kelly talks about other critical cases in front of the Supreme Court next term:
The Supreme Court interprets current laws on the book, but the role of the legislative branch is to write laws. So by winning seats in the state and federal legislatures, we can elect officials that will codify these rights into law. It is hard work, but it can be done if we’re all engaged in the process.
Kelly Ward Burton
Kelly Ward Burton, a native of Las Vegas, Nevada, is not only president of the NDRC, she’s also the president of its affiliates, the National Redistricting Action Fund and the National Redistricting Foundation. Prior to NDRC, Burton served four years as the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and previously as the DCCC’s political director and director of Incumbent Protection.
Burton brings to this work an extensive array of experience managing both political and advocacy campaigns.