Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Exclusive Interview with Jerry Mandering

Exclusive Interview with Jerry Mandering

In the biggest political scandal to hit Iowa since Terry Branstad appointed his donors to the Regents and Supreme Court, the secretive Iowa-based redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering has been caught working not only for both major political parties, but for a term limits organization as well.

In an exclusive, we have the first interview with the elusive Mandering.

You're working for two parties AND for US Term Limits. That's pretty shameless.

Hey, a guy's gotta eat. You know how hard it is being an Iowa based gerrymandering consultant? The clean districting system Iowa's got, with the nonpartisan Legislative Service Bureau drawing the map, makes it hard for a guy like me to make a living. You know how much they pay for this s*** in Texas?

Funny how your job works with your name.

Yeah, Ma said it was my destiny.

What was her name?

Sally. Sally Mandering. My dad's Garry Mandering. He says "gary" is how the guy who drew the first one of these, Vice President Elbridge Gerry, said the name.

Anyone else in your family?

I have a sister, Jeri Mandering, which gets confusing sometimes. Plus I got two brothers, Peyton and Eli, but they don't like maps, they just play football. That's a wimp sport compared to the total war of political cartography. Only thing is, the Super Bowl is every year but I only get a Census every ten.

I didn't see your brothers in the Super Bowl this year.

Yeah, I hear you're a Packer fan. Anyway, who'da thought the Pack winning the Super Bowl would be the SECOND biggest story out of Wisconsin in February?

Let's look at the maps, starting with the one you did for the Republicans.

Right. I started by shoving all the students, professors, and overpaid public employees I could find into one district. Hawkeye, Cyclones, Panthers, even whatever those Grinnell kids call themselves. It's got not just Black Hawk and Linn, but Johnson too. So Dave Loebsack has nowhere to move. It's him or Braley, baby.

But you put Tom Latham in that seat too.

Yeah, technically, Latham needs to move. But he goes back to the farm in Alexander. He just moved to Ames a few years back. And I gave him as much of the surrounding old turf I could manage. Polk dominates no matter what district you put it in, because it's bigger than half a district. But this district has pretty much all the suburbs. Latham beats Boz in this map. I hear you been bugging him to retire for a while.

Steve King is solid no matter how you draw him, but I love that panhandle you stretched over to the Mississippi.

And I made that open seat in the south for Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Maybe Christie Vilsack could make a go of it. A two-woman race would finally get us out of the no-women club with Mississippi. But in a good year Republicans could go 3-1 with this map.

Have you shown this to Mike Gronstal?

Nah, you're the first.

You realize this one would never pass the Democratic Senate.

Not my job. I just draws `em. A guy can dream, can't he? But since you asked, I don't think a plan that pairs two Dems or two Republicans will fly, unless there's a clear exit strategy for one of the guys who gets paired, like I gave Latham here. Doing this business I get to know a lot of good realtors. I think it comes down to Latham-Boswell, and that comes down to where they put Dallas County.

Besides, the whole plan is a package, up or down, legislative and congressional maps together. And when it comes down to it, the legislators are looking at their own seats, not the congressional. So these things don't always go party line. So all I gotta do is give two Democratic Senators a sweet district, and bada-bing, they can shove this through. Hey, the Legislative Service Bureau might do that on accident, without even tryin'. They don't even know where people live.

Speaking of which, where are your state legislative maps?

Highly classified. That's what they pay me the big bucks for.

Fair enough, Jerry. Let's see what you drew for the Democrats.

Well, they did pretty good with the old map so Braley and Loebsack I left alone, they've got the overwhelming majority of their old districts.

You moved Muscatine.

Big freakin' deal. You gotta do something just to earn your consulting fee.

Loebsack moves into some GOP turf in the west.

Dave can handle a few Dutchmen from Osky and Pella with the Johnson County presidential year vote.

Tell me about Steve King's seat.

The trick with a gerrymander is, you pack as many of the other team into one seat as you can to run up the score. So I took Krazy King all the way up to the Dallas-Polk line to waste all those suburban votes on padding his margins. So he wins with 70% instead of 60, and that's all votes Tom Latham can't get. And if Latham moves into this seat, King kills him in a Republican primary electorate.

So what does Latham do in this map, move back to Alexander?

That's the beauty of it. Notice how all three of the other districts touch Franklin County and chop up his old base. Meanwhile I gave Leonard all those farmers he used to represent in the State Senate. I think anything is tough for Leonard against Latham, but this ain't bad if I do say so myself.

Frankly I'm more impressed with the map you did for US Term Limits.

I know. King, Latham, Braley and Loebsack all in one district. Polk is too big, so mathematically you can't do all five. But Leonard ain't from Des Moines anyway. Plus I made sure to stretch that one from Polk all the way over to Mt. Pleasant, just to give Christie Vilsack some encouragement.

Thanks for the exclusive on this. I see you have one more map here.

Now this -- this is just a thing of beauty. I had to trace it with my finger just to make sure each one really fit together. It's too bad Iowa makes you keep whole counties together. I literally have dreams at night of what I could do with a freeway median strip. I really should go work in Chicago.

What about the standard of compactness?

It's like that judge said about porn: I know it when I see it. And any of these would fly in another state. Bad enough that Iowa law won't let you meet at a point. They do that in North Carolina.

You take a lot of pride in your work.

I'm an artist at heart. I got a bunch more of these.

You're really doing a public service.

How's that?

No matter what that nonpartisan Legislative Service Bureau comes up with, no matter how much anyone hates it, they'll still be thinking, I'm better off than I would be with one of Jerry's maps.

Oh, yeah? Let's see you do better.

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