Newspaper column: How to redraw political districts after Census?

An effort has been launched to make the boundary changes to political districts after the 2020 Census less subject to manipulation by the major political parties.

Earlier this month, the League of Women Voters Nevada filed a constitutional amendment with the Secretary of State that would create a bipartisan commission to redraw political districts rather than the state Legislature, which currently is dominated in both chambers by Democrats, according to the Nevada Independent.

The amendment states that its purpose is “to end the partisan practice of gerrymandering by establishing a bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission to oversee the mapping of fair and competitive electoral districts for the Nevada Senate, Nevada Assembly, and Representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives.”

The term gerrymander comes from a political cartoon showing a contorted political district — created by the signature of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry in 1812 — to appear to be in the shape of a salamander.

The bid to amend the state Constitution comes on the heels of a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that said the federal courts have no role in preventing gerrymandering. The court said that, while partisan redistricting might seem unjust, the Constitution does not give the courts the power to counteract. The court said there are other remedies.

In fact, the court in 2015 ruled that commissions such as the one contemplated by the League of Women voters are constitutional. Even though the Constitution says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature …” the justices in a 5-4 ruling said Arizona could create such a commission by ballot initiative.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion: “The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have ‘an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people.’ In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore ‘the core principle of republican government,’ namely, ‘that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.’ The Elections Clause does not hinder that endeavor.”

Such commissions have been created in 21 states so far.

One problem is that any panel of human beings will bring to such a commission their own biases and objectives. Additionally, while lawmakers are accountable to the voters at the next election, not so such commissioners.

The League contemplates a panel made up of seven members, one appointed by the state Senate majority leader, one by the state Senate minority leader and one each by the Assembly majority and minority leaders. Those four would then appoint three commissioners who would be unaffiliated with either of the major parties.

If enough initiative signatures are obtained, the measure would have to be approved by voters in 2020 and 2022 and lines would be redrawn in 2023.

The problem may be less with the makeup of the panel than the incomprehensible number of special interests and demographics and objectives outlined by the amendment. It states, “The Commission will ensure, to the extent possible, that the electoral districts comply with the United States Constitution, have an approximately equal number of inhabitants, are geographically compact and contiguous, provide equal opportunities for racial and language minorities to participate in the political process, respect areas with recognized similarities of interests, including racial, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, geographic, or historic identities, do not unduly advantage or disadvantage a political party, and are politically competitive.”

Try mucking out all those stables, Hercules.

May we be so bold as to suggest an alternative? Rather than creating a commission, put out for bid a contract for computer programmers to create a software that would begin at one corner of the state and then — for creating U.S. House seats — encompass one quarter of the state population, then another quarter until four districts of equal population and contiguous districts are drawn. Repeat the process for the 21 state Senate seats and the 42 Assembly seats. The chances of that fairly including members of all political parties and minorities and special interests is just as likely as what any commission could conjure.

No matter how it is done, someone will squawk.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Editorial: Keeping taxes low will keep Nevada prosperous

Welcome to Nevada

It is called voting with your feet.

From July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018, Nevada’s population grew by 62,000 people to more than 3 million — a growth rate of 2.09 percent, the fastest in the nation. This included a net migration of 48,000 people 

Many of them came from neighboring California, with its high taxes, high housing costs and burdensome regulations.

So, let that be a lessen to our newly elected Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Democratic majorities in the state Senate and Assembly, which will be in session in a matter of weeks. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, the eight fastest-growing states by population last year were Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Florida, Washington, Colorado and Texas. What do these states have in common? Relatively low taxes and business friendly government policies, a Journal editorial noted. Nevada, Texas, Washington and Florida have no income tax, for example. 

Then there is California. Since 2010, a net 710,000 people have left California for other states.

High-tax states Illinois and Connecticut have actually lost population as people flee.

According to the Tax Foundation’s latest figures, California has the 10th highest state and local tax burden in the nation at $5,842 per capita. This compares to Nevada’s rank of 29nd at $4,099 per capita. It should be noted that three years earlier, prior to some recent Republican-backed tax hikes, Nevada ranked 43rd lowest. 

In an article in The Wall Street Journal in 2009 under the headline, “Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich,” economist Arthur Laffer and WSJ economics writer Stephen Moore updated previous studies and found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day of the year relocated from the nine highest income-tax states — such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio — mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax — including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas.

Laffer and Moore determined that over that period of time the no-income tax states created 89 percent more jobs and had 32 percent faster personal income growth than the high-tax states.

“Dozens of academic studies — old and new — have found clear and irrefutable statistical evidence that high state and local taxes repel jobs and businesses,” Laffer and Moore concluded.

Federalism allows the states to compete for prosperity. Let’s hope our lawmakers take heed and act accordingly.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Census should ask about citizenship

Ignorance is not bliss.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have sued in an effort to block the 2020 Census from asking about citizenship status, claiming the question will prompt illegal immigrants to not respond and thus result in an undercount of population. That, they say, could result in the loss of congressional representation and federal funding for states, such as California, that have large immigrant populations.

According to the 14th Amendment, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.” That’s the whole number of persons, not just citizens.

The stakes for Nevada are also high.

According to a Pew Research report, in 2012 Nevada’s population included 7.6 percent illegal immigrants, its workforce was 10.2 percent illegals and its school enrollment included 17.7 percent whose parents are not in the country legally. All of those levels were the highest in the nation and climbing.

According to estimates posted by the Census Bureau in July, fully 19.3 percent of Nevada residents were foreign born. Fully 27 percent of Californians were foreign born. The problem is that there is no accurate number for how many of those have attained citizenship or legal residency.

The citizenship question was asked up until 1950 and is still asked on the more detailed American Community Survey that goes to about 2.6 percent of the population each year.

The Census Bureau explains why the citizenship and place of birth questions are on the long form: “We ask about people in the community born in other countries in combination with information about housing, language spoken at home, employment, and education, to help government and communities enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination based on national origin. For example, these data are used to support the enforcement responsibilities under the Voting Rights Act to investigate differences in voter participation rates and to enforce other laws and policies regarding bilingual requirements.”

Those who oppose asking about citizenship status do so under the purely speculative supposition that non-citizens will spurn the census entirely, ignoring the fact the Census Bureau is legally bound by strict confidentiality requirements. It may not share individual data with ICE, the IRS, the FBI, the CIA or anyone.

Additionally, refusing to comply with the Census can result in a $100 fine and providing false data can result in a $500 fine, though reportedly no one has been fined since 1970.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto railed, “This decision trades the accuracy of a census designed to provide complete count of the entire nation’s population for a political win for President Trump. This is a direct attack on immigrant populations that could lead to undercounted and underfunded minority districts across the country. It is an assault on our representative democracy and our Constitution which requires a complete and accurate count of everyone living in the country, no matter their citizenship status.”

Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat, said the citizenship question “politicizes the census and drags its integrity into question. It’s clear that the Trump administration is looking to ensure Nevada’s immigrant communities are underserved and underrepresented for the next decade.”

The mostly Democratic-majority states that are suing over the Census question about citizenship are claiming the knowledge will somehow dilute minority representation, but the opposite is the case.

A Wall Street Journal editorial recently pointed out, “The progressive critics are also missing that Commerce says the Justice Department requested the citizenship question to continue a longtime progressive policy: to wit, enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate by race. Justice supposedly needs detailed data on citizen voting-age population by census block, which the American Community Survey doesn’t provide.”

Hans von Spakovsky explained in an essay penned for The Heritage Foundation, “Citizenship information collected in the 2000 census was vital to our efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act when I worked at the U.S. Department of Justice. When reviewing claims of whether the voting strength of minority voters was being diluted in redistricting, it was essential to know the size of the citizen voting age population.”

So it certainly seems that the self-styled progressives are ignoring the facts, the statistics and the well-being of those they claim to wish to protect.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.