New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

Beyond Gerrymandering and Polarization

June 27, 2013

Image: Gerrymandering

For years, political insiders have known how powerful redistricting can be for elected officials to protect friends and undermine opponents. Both parties have exploited the ability to redistrict, minimizing the role of voters in the political process. This gerrymandering leads to most incumbents facing only token opposition and partisan distortions within states and the nation overall.

But the problem may be less redistricting than the very fact of districting itself. This program, in partnership with FairVote, looks beyond gerrymandering and heightened political polarization to statutory solutions grounded in our nation's history. Panelists explored how to replace gerrymandered winner-take-all elections with nonpartisan commissions tasked to create district plans designed for fair representation voting methods that hold the promise to improve politics, provide fairer representation for women and racial minorities, allow both major parties and independents to compete in one-party strongholds, and ultimately put voters in control of their own representation.

Image: Keith Ellison

Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN)

Image: Norm Ornstein

Norman J. Ornstein
Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Image: Marie Wilson

Marie Wilson
Founder and Former President, The White House Project

Image: Jamie Raskin

Jamie Raskin
Washington College of Law Professor and State Senator (D-MD)

Image: John Porter

John Edward Porter
Former Congressman (R-IL)

Image: Krist Novoselic

Krist Novoselic
Chairman of the Board, FairVote

Image: FairVote

Image: Special Guest
Image: Rep. Clyburn

President Barack Obama has said he is, "One of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens." As Assistant Democratic Leader in the 113th Congress, the number three Democrat in the House, James E. Clyburn is the leadership liaison to the Appropriations Committee and one of the Democratic Caucus' primary liaisons to the White House. Working with the internal caucuses, he plays a prominent role in messaging and outreach.

His humble beginnings in Sumter South Carolina, as the eldest son of an activist fundamentalist minister and an independent civic minded beautician, grounded him securely in family, faith and public service. He was elected president of his NAACP youth chapter when he was 12 years old, helped organize many civil rights marches and demonstrations as a student leader at South Carolina State College, and even met his wife Emily in jail during one of his incarcerations.

When Clyburn came to Congress in 1993, he was elected co-President of his Freshman class and quickly rose through leadership ranks. He was elected Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1999, and his reputation as a leader and consensus-builder helped him win a difficult three-way race for House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair in 2002. Three years later, he was unanimously elected Chair of the Democratic Caucus. When Democrats regained the House majority in 2006, Congressman Clyburn was elevated by his colleagues to House Majority Whip.

As a national leader he has worked to respond to the needs of America's diverse communities. He championed rural communities supporting the development of regional water projects, community health centers, and broadband connections. He has supported higher education by leading the charge for increased Pell grants; investing millions in science and math programs and historic preservation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He has encouraged economic development by securing funding for Empowerment Zones; investing in green technology development such as nuclear, wind, hydrogen and biofuels; and directing 10 percent of Recovery Act funding to communities 20 percent under the poverty level for the past 30 years. Clyburn was instrumental in advancing into law measures to resolve historic discrimination issues, significantly reducing the statutory disparity in cocaine sentencing and compensating African and Native American farmers who suffered racial discrimination under the USDA loan program

Jim and Emily Clyburn have three daughters, Mignon, Jennifer Reed, and Angela Hannibal; two sons-in-law, Walter Reed and Cecil Hannibal; and three grandchildren, Walter A Clyburn Reed, Sydney Alexis Reed, and Layla Joann Clyburn Hannibal.

Image: Meet the Panelists

Congressman Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Fifth District includes the City of Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs and is one of the most vibrant and ethnically diverse districts in Minnesota.

Rep. Ellison’s guiding philosophy is based on “generosity and inclusion” and his priorities in Congress are building prosperity for working families, promoting peace, pursuing environmental sustainability, and advancing civil and human rights. Rep. Ellison’s commitment to consumer justice led him to write legislation that was included in the Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights of 2009. This law prevents an unfair practice called “universal default,” which allowed lenders to increase their customers’ interest rates if they had late payments with another lender. In response to the foreclosure crisis that began in 2008, Rep. Ellison also wrote the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act, which requires banks and other new owners to provide at least 90 days’ notice of eviction to renters occupying foreclosed homes.

As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, the congressman helps oversee the nation’s financial services and housing industries, as well as Wall Street. He also serves on the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee, which decides committee assignments for Democratic Members and sets the Democratic Caucus' policy agenda. In the past he served on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Rep. Ellison was elected co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus for the 113th Congress that promotes the progressive promise of fairness for all. The core principles of this progressive promise are fighting for economic justice and security for all; protecting and preserving our civil rights and civil liberties; promoting global peace and security; and advancing environmental protection and energy independence.

He is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, founded the Congressional Consumer Justice Caucus, and belongs to more than a dozen other caucuses that focus on issues ranging from social inclusion to environmental protection.

Before being elected to Congress Rep. Ellison was a noted community activist and ran a thriving civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law practice in Minneapolis. He also was elected to serve two terms in the Minnesota State House of Representatives.

Keith was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He has lived in Minnesota since earning his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990. Keith is the proud father of four children.

Norman Ornstein is a long-time observer of Congress and politics. He is a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and The Atlantic and is an election eve analyst for BBC News. He served as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project and participates in AEI's Election Watch series. He also served as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Mr. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law, known as McCain-Feingold, that reformed the campaign financing system. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future (AEI Press, 2000); The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann (Oxford University Press, 2006, named by the Washington Post one of the best books of 2006 and called by The Economist "a classic"); and, most recently, the New York Times bestseller, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, also with Tom Mann, published in May 2012 by Basic Books. It was named as one of 2012's best books on politics by The New Yorker and one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post.

Marie Wilson is the founder and former president of the White House Project, an organization that advocated for women’s leadership positions and ultimately for the presidency, in addition to conducting significant research on women in media, politics, and business. Ms. Wilson is a co-creator of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day (started 1993), and served as the head of the Ms. Foundation for Women, a national advocacy group dedicated to fighting for women’s rights, which created the Marie C. Wilson Leadership Fund in honor of her achievements. In addition to being a renowned speaker, writer, and leader in the women’s rights movement, Ms. Wilson has the distinction of being the first woman elected to the Des Moines City Council as a member at large, in 1983.

Jamie Raskin is a professor of constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law and Director of its Program on Law and Government and its Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. He is also a Democratic State Senator in Maryland representing Silver Spring and Takoma Park and serving on the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Professor Raskin has written dozens of essays and law review articles and several books, including the 2003 Washington Post Bestseller Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court versus the American People, an analysis of conservative judicial activism and its effect on political democracy, and We the Students, which analyzes Supreme Court decisions affecting America’s students and has been called “the bible of the new movement for constitutional
literacy.” In 1999 Raskin founded the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, which has sent hundreds of law students at seven different law schools into public high schools to teach thousands of students a semester-long course in constitutional literacy.

Professor Raskin is an active pro bono lawyer, and has successfully represented high school students facing censorship, Greenpeace, unions defending their free speech rights, Ross Perot in his suit to be included in presidential debates, and Cindy Sheehan in her effort to get charges dropped when she was arrested at the 2006 State of the Union Address in the Capitol building for wearing an anti-war T-shirt. He was also one of the lawyers in Alexander v. Daley arguing that the disenfranchisement of citizens of Washington, D.C. violates Equal Protection.

Professor Raskin was the first Chairman of Maryland’s Higher Education Labor Relations Board and wrote the rules through which more than 7,000 Marylanders gained collective bargaining rights.

In September 2006, in his first bid for public office, Raskin won 67% of the vote in the Democratic Primary for State Senate from Maryland’s District 20, toppling a 32-year incumbent, and in November of that year captured 99% of the vote in the general election. Now a member of the Maryland Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, the Joint Committee on the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Regions, the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics and the Joint Committee on Federal Relations, Senator Raskin saw more than a dozen of his bills passed into law in his first legislative session, including a farm-to-schools program to get locally grown fresh farm food into public school cafeterias, Maryland’s first statewide civil rights law giving victims of discrimination the right to a jury trial and compensatory damages, a consumer safety law protecting automobile purchasers, a law giving tenants facing a condo conversion the right to purchase their units and to be notified of the purchase price six months in advance, a law establishing September 17 as Constitution and Bill of Rights Day in Maryland, and the National Popular Vote law, which made Maryland the first state in the Union to adopt a plan for a nationwide interstate compact to cast every state’s electoral college votes for the winner of the national popular vote.

The Washington Post has described Raskin as the Senate’s “authority on constitutional issues,” the Silver Spring Voice recently called him the “whiz kid” of the General Assembly, and the Takoma Voice, in its “Best of the Best” readers choice issue, named him Montgomery County’s 2007 “Most Responsive Elected Official.” recently named him “Maryland’s Smartest Legislator.”

A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was an Editor of the Harvard Law Review, Senator Raskin speaks French and is learning Spanish. He lives with his wife Sarah, Maryland’s Banking Commissioner, and their three children, Hannah, Tommy and Tabitha, in Takoma Park, Maryland.

John Porter, who was named one of Washington, D.C.'s "Top 50 Lobbyists" in 2007 by Washingtonian magazine, concentrates his practice on policy, strategy, and advocacy for clients primarily, but not exclusively, in the fields of health and education for the law firm Hogan Lovells.

John previously served 21 years as a U.S. Congressman from the 10th District in Illinois, where he served on the Appropriations Committee, and as Chair of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Under the jurisdiction of his subcommittee were all of the health agencies and programs, except military and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and all of the education agencies and programs of the federal government. He also served as Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Military Construction. Before his election to Congress, John served in the Illinois House of Representatives and prior to that as an honor law graduate attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in the Kennedy Administration. He was founder and Co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a voluntary association of more than 250 members of Congress working to identify, monitor, and end human rights violations worldwide. John authored the legislation creating Radio Free Asia and served as Chair of the Global Legislators Organized for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE USA).

Krist Novoselic was a member of the groundbreaking rock band Nirvana. After Nirvana, Novoselic went on to become one of rock's most politically-minded musicians. He has also committed himself to numerous community projects and has become an influential part of the Northwest political scene.

In 2004, Krist did a national book tour with FairVote, promoting his book "Of Grunge & Government: Let's Fix This Broken Democracy!" In the book, Novoselic discusses how Nirvana emerged as the world's biggest band of the early 1990s, how he got involved in politics and why we need electoral reform -- in particular full representation and instant runoff voting. The tour was well-covered in the media, including taping by C-SPAN and an interview in the New Yorker. Krist joined FairVote's Board in 2005 and was elected chair in 2008.

Fixing Congress with Fair Representation Voting

NYU Footer