Organization Trends

Eric Holder’s Plan to Gerrymander America

A related story on Eric Holder and the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race is published at the Washington Free Beacon

Summary: Former attorney general Eric Holder is riddled with scandal from the Obama administration, but that won’t stop him from pushing a far-left agenda—and possibly even a presidential run in 2020. Holder has his fingers in the upcoming congressional redistricting pie, and if he has his way, he’ll replace what he considers to be fake Republican “gerrymandering” with real Democratic gerrymandering – with disastrous results.

The notion of Eric Holder as a presidential candidate in 2020 might seem rather laughable at first, considering the baggage he brings with him from scandals in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. He’s also the ultimate Washington insider, epitomizing the revolving door between government and lobbying.

However, nominating him for president might actually make some sense considering the Democratic Party is already pinning so much of their hopes for future success on the former attorney general. These hopes are for rebuilding state parties so that Democrats will have a bench of candidates to draw from after being decimated over the last eight years during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Holder is the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee—which, as the name indicates, is partisan, oriented toward getting more Democrats elected, and is largely based on excuses for past losses. That’s perfectly OK. One would expect both parties to seek a leg up for winning elections and occasionally make excuses for losing them. What’s insufferable is the high-minded rhetoric that Holder’s organization is using, as if it’s only looking to save democracy.

The existence of the organization also makes the illogical leap that elections losses are not because Democratic policies fail, or that candidates are bad, or their ideas can’t be sold to mainstream voters. No. Actually, it’s that the system is rigged by the way congressional and state legislative districts are drawn.

The NDRC touts “fair maps” for districts. Fair (typically the left’s favorite catch-all word for seeking an advantage over their opponents) is how Holder and former President Barack Obama are selling the redistricting crusade. Obama has reportedly jumped aboard as Holder’s ally as his post-presidency pet project.

In Holder’s statements, speeches, and writings about the committee he doesn’t attack gerrymandering itself, which Democrats used for decades to build up their congressional and state legislative majorities. Rather, he attacks Republican gerrymandering.

Holder’s great test will come in this year’s state races in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as in 2018 with a focus on state legislative races across the United States. If Democrats can also win big at the state level in 2020, they’ll be in a prime position to create multiple shades of blue maps for state legislators and members of Congress in 2021 reapportionment.

In a July op-ed, Holder declared that “Congress is broken,” and essentially made himself the repairman, as if he was above the partisanship.

“Extreme partisan gerrymandering reached new levels during the 2011 redistricting process, propelled by precision targeting technology and special interest funding, Republicans drew maps in state after state that packed Democratic voters into bizarrely shaped districts and protected Republican incumbents,” Holder complained.

He continued, “With fewer competitive congressional seats, members of Congress are incentivized to serve narrow, partisan interests. This creates a Congress driven by primary party politics and ideological extremism, not one accountable to the will of the majority of voters.”

Holder crowed about the fact that federal courts were taking up cases of what he calls “illegal gerrymandering” in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and Texas. He also played up identity politics, saying that some litigation by other parties “already produced fairer maps—and led to two new African American members of Congress.”

Holder has also made himself a key leader of the “Resistance.” Of course, he’s not just some do-gooder. The NDRC is a side gig, as he’s working for the Washington, D.C. super-firm Covington & Burling, for which he is retained by the California state legislature in its drive to defy federal law under President Donald Trump’s administration. So, he and the firm will profit handsomely from Trump hatred. As a bonus, this feeds his radical progressive ideology.

This comes after a tumultuous period as attorney general—found in contempt of Congress in a bipartisan vote and seemingly declaring war on the free press—as he brazenly used the Justice Department to reward friends and punish enemies. He sought to promote political causes, making relationships with such far left groups as Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and Media Matters for America, and bailing out the New Black Panther Party from prosecution over voter intimidation—even though voting rights is something he claims to care about.

While serving as attorney general, Holder once said: “If you want to call me an activist attorney general, I will proudly accept that label. Any attorney general who is not an activist is not doing his or her job.” Noting the criticisms of those who had complained that the Justice Department had an activist attorney general,” Holder added: “I’d say I agree with you 1,000 percent and proud of it.” (FrontPageMag, Aug. 4, 2014).

But even Holder had to abide by some ethical constraints and appearance of nonpartisan law enforcement if he reasonably wanted to remain attorney general. Now out of office, with added clout and a powerful Washington law firm behind him, it’s difficult to imagine he feels any shackles.

Painting the Map Blue

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee was incorporated in late fall 2016, but didn’t formally launch until this year.

In January, Holder announced the formal launch of the NRDC during a speech at the Center for American Progress. He said the three priorities for the organization would be: 1.) electoral, meaning getting Democrats elected at the state level; 2.) “a proactive legal strategy,” meaning lawsuits over existing or proposed legislative lines; and 3.) ballot initiatives, when “this is the best strategy to produce fairer maps.”

“This redistricting process will be critical to the future of our democracy,” Holder told the Center for American Progress. “Those who control state governments draw the lines that shape Congress for the next decade. Fixing this redistricting problem will involve not just focusing on the lines, but focusing on the larger effort to win back governance. This is the path to ensuring Democrats have their rightful seats at the table in 2021.”

The organization is a “527,” a name derived from a section in the federal tax code. This means the NRDC is dedicated to influencing policy or elections and may raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and labor unions.

And, Obama is on board as a goal of his post-presidency. During his final State of the Union address, the president told a joint session of Congress in 2016: “I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. Let a bipartisan group do it.”

In 42 states, the state legislatures decide on congressional districts, while in 37 states, the lawmakers decide on state legislative districts.

The effort involves the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on raising money for state races. DLCC spokeswoman Carolyn Fiddler was ecstatic to have Obama helping out.

“DLCC is thrilled that former Attorney General Holder and President Obama are engaging in this crucial effort. Redistricting and state legislative elections are vital to the future of the Democratic Party, and the president’s involvement will help drive that fact home to a broad audience,” Fiddler said. (The Daily Signal, Oct. 23, 2016)

Democratic Governors Association Chairman Dan Malloy, the governor of Connecticut, said the organization should help in electing more governors for the party.

“In 2011, Republicans purposefully skewed the lines and rigged the map against the American people. The results have been clear: nearly a decade of Tea Party obstruction in Congress and devastating policies in states across the country,” Malloy said in a statement. “The NDRC’s investments in governors and state races will help fight back against GOP gerrymandering and invest in the future of the Democratic Party.”

The concept was actually hatched during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where Malloy, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico met to talk about the group. (Politico, Oct. 17, 2016)

The NRDC Board of Directors is made up of some of Washington’s top players now serving under Holder.

NRDC President Elisabeth Pearson is also the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. The NRDC Vice President is Ali Lapp, the executive director of House Majority PAC. Other board members are Jessica Post, the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and Greg Speed, president of America Votes Action Fund, a Democratic Super PAC.

American Thinker editor Thomas Lifson explained the larger context of the organization’s efforts.

“Redistricting, a.k.a. [g]errymandering (depending on the eye of the beholder), is now a science, thanks to the data-mining capabilities of all the Silicon Valley Big Money corporatist allies of the Democrats,” Lifson wrote. “Assembling masses of data from Google, Facebook, and others, they can put together districts micro-targeted with just enough Democrats to win and shove the GOP voters into 90% majority districts, shut out forever from control of state legislatures and the House of Representatives.” (American Thinker, Oct. 17, 2016)

Obama and Holder have both strongly advocated for racially drawn districts, and using the Voting Rights Act for partisan advantage to create “majority minority” districts. As far back as his time in the Illinois legislature, after the 2000 Census, Obama told the Chicago Defender newspaper that, “while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking African-American seats.” (National Review, Feb. 20, 2017)

The Factual Flaws of the Big Excuse

Obama’s promise to fundamentally transform America came true in an unintended way during his presidency, as he laid waste to his party’s standing from Congress down through the state legislators.

He lost a total of 35 state legislative chambers during his eight years in office to new Republican majorities who could be drawing up district lines. He can’t blame unfriendly maps for the loss of 13 Democratic U.S. Senate seats and 14 Democratic governors—statewide offices with no gerrymandered voting lines—during his two terms. According to the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Obama lost more seats for his party than any other two-term president in modern history. (LifeZette, Nov. 14, 2016)

Not surprising, the BIG EXCUSE of gerrymandering for the Democrats losses doesn’t stand up to a reality check.

To be sure, drawing legislative districts is a political exercise, and done to give one party an advantage. In most cases it does. But, it’s in no way insurmountable. Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1954 through 1994 was in no small part attributable to Democratic gerrymandering, but Republicans eventually broke through.

Holder complains that Republicans House candidates won barely 50 percent of total popular vote in House elections, but control 55 percent of the House seats. However, other factors are involved beyond gerrymandering in contrasting seats won vs. popular vote.

Sean Trende, an elections analyst, said from 1942 to 1992, “the Democrats had a huge advantage in seats won vs. their popular-vote share, averaging 5 percent.”

A 5-percentage point advantage is worth 22 house seats today. Republicans had a 4.9 percentage point advantage, worth 21 seats in last year’s election. In previous years, it was smaller, as low as 2.1 percent (nine seats) in 2010 before the districts were redrawn; 4.4 points (19 seats) in 2012 and 3.8 points (17 seats) in 2014. (National Review, Feb. 20, 2017)

Democrats had a 3.8 percent advantage in House seats over the popular vote for House candidate in 2008, worth 15 more seats. However, we don’t hear Obama or Holder questioning the legitimacy of Obamacare—a law that passed with a seven-vote margin in the House and wouldn’t have without the gerrymandering advantage.

Two political science professors, Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan and Jonathan Rodden of Stanford University did a 2013 study of legislative districts that used computer simulations of precinct-by-precinct voting patterns. They determined Republicans have a “human geography” advantage. Democratic voters concentrate overwhelmingly in liberal urban districts. Republican voters more evenly distributed in the suburban, exurban, small-town, and rural districts. The researchers called this “unintentional gerrymandering,” which produced an average five percentage points advantage nationally for Republicans.

Leader of the Resistance

Being part of the “Resistance” is the in thing for the Left, as even Trump’s vanquished opponent Hillary Clinton declared her allegiance to the movement. She will definitely have competition if she wants to be a leader.

While there is not a designated leader of the “Resistance” per se, Holder is really deeply involved in the core of the resistance mission, which is defying federal law under the Trump administration. Representing California, Holder has—whether he likes it or not—put himself in league with John C. Calhoun, who also argued that states have the right nullify federal laws they don’t like.

In January, the Democratic-controlled California legislature hired him to represent them for any legal clashes they might have against the Trump administration, as it moved toward becoming a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants.

“Having the former attorney general of the United States brings us a lot of firepower in order to prepare to safeguard the values of the people of California,” Kevin de León, the Democratic leader of the Senate, told the New York Times. “This means we are very, very serious.”

The nation’s most populous state actually has an independent bipartisan commission that draws up legislative and congressional districts. Nevertheless, two-thirds of all seats in both the state Assembly and Senate are held by Democrats, which hardly indicates more competitive elections. The Democrats also control all of the statewide offices, and was nearly singularly responsible for Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win in 2016.

“California is in so many ways a trendsetter, whether it is in pop culture or in politics,” Holder said in June about the state’s sanctuary state bill. “That’s why it was such an attractive possibility for me to go to California and work with the legislators there in crafting their response to the Trump administration—because I think what California does gives courage to other states and other public officials in other parts of the country who might be thinking about principled opposition.” (Washington Free Beacon, July 13, 2017)

Already, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra—possibly wanting to ensure he isn’t overshadowed by the notoriety of Holder—and separately the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles are suing the Trump Justice Department for proposing to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities, where local law enforcements is prohibited by municipal policies from assisting federal immigration officials. The problems with sanctuary cities was illuminated after an illegal alien with multiple arrests murdered Kate Steinle in San Francisco in 2015 and this year when an illegal alien who had been arrested 20 times was charged for sexually assaulting a 65-year-old woman in Portland, Oregon.

In July, Holder spoke to about 800 left-wing lawyers at a San Francisco fundraising event for the liberal nonprofit Legal Aid At Work, where he asserted the “moral arc of the universe” may be bending away from justice.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us to keep our hands on that arc,” Holder told the crowd. “There is fighting to be done, there are lawsuits to be brought … You can never underestimate the power of the American people.” (Washington Free Beacon, July 13, 2017)

Holder for President 2020

Holder is at least entertaining the possibility that tilting redistricting toward Democrats and suing the Trump administration will put him in line to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.

Yahoo News reported in June that “Holder is mulling a White House bid of his own, according to three sources who have spoken to him and are familiar with his thinking.”

And the former attorney general didn’t deny anything.

“Up to now, I have been more behind-the-scenes. But that’s about to change. I have a certain status as the former attorney general. A certain familiarity as the first African-American attorney general. There’s a justified perception that I’m close to President Obama,” Holder told Yahoo News. “So, I want to use whatever skills I have, whatever notoriety I have, to be effective in opposing things that are, at the end of the day, just bad for the country. Now is the time to be more visible. Now is the time to be heard.”

He’s charting his own course, and is likely to have a higher media profile in the coming months and years leading up to 2020. Yet, he’ll have to explain a lot away from his public record from two Democratic Justice Departments.

In 2012, Holder’s behavior was so egregious that 17 House Democrats joined Republicans in voting to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress for obstructing the investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun sting, in which the Justice Department allowed about 2,000 guns to flow to Mexican drug trafficking organizations, but then lost track of the guns. The operation was halted only after one of the guns was identified at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. The contempt citation amounted to little more than a censure, and Obama kept him on as attorney general after winning a second term.

Holder’s first scandal as Obama’s attorney general was stopping the prosecution of the New Black Panther party members, despite near slam dunk case against Minister King Samir Shabazz, Malik Zulu Shabazz, and Jerry Jackson for actions at a Philadelphia polling office in 2008. They were even caught on video intimidating voters.

The New Black Panther Party case could curry favor with the far-left going into 2020. Just as governors and members of Congress like to remind old constituents of past favors, Holder could do the same regarding his tenure as attorney general, as he forged alliances with several leftwing nonprofits.

In April 2012, Holder spoke to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, where he said to the known demagogue,

“Reverend Sharpton … I am especially grateful … for your partnership, your friendship, and your tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless, and to shine a light on the problems we must solve, and the promises we must fulfill.” (Discover the Networks)>>END BLOCKQUOTE<<

Holder also collaborated with Media Matters for America, a left-wing self-proclaimed “media watchdog” once run by Clinton confidante David Brock. In 2012, the Daily Caller obtained emails through the Freedom of Information Act that showed Holder’s communications staff worked with Media Matters of America to discredit news stories critical of Justice Department scandals.

The Daily Caller reported:

Dozens of pages of emails between DOJ Office of Public Affairs Director Tracy Schmaler and Media Matters staffers show Schmaler, Holder’s top press defender, working … with Media Matters staffer Jeremy Holden on attacking news coverage of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation scandal.

And another that said, “Media Matters’ Matt Gertz wrote to Schmaler asking for her help “debunking what I think is a conservative media myth about Operation Fast and Furious.”

It wasn’t just bad press that Holder couldn’t seem to handle. He was known for going after journalists during his tenure.

He went after James Rosen, a reporter for the New York Times, and James Rosen, a reporter for Fox News. The DOJ issued a subpoena to Risen of the Times to force him to testify against a whistleblower. The DOJ meanwhile made Rosen of Fox News an unindicted co-conspirator in another case. Perhaps even worse, under Holder, the DOJ secretly obtained the Associated Press phone records and some AP personal phone lines were subject to surveillance. (Washington Post, May 13, 2013).

Even journalist Glenn Greenwald, no conservative, expressed qualms with Holder’s attitude toward the press.

“Under U.S. law, it is not illegal to publish classified information,” Greenwald said. “That fact, along with the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the U.S. government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the U.S. government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ—that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for ‘soliciting’ the disclosure of classified information—is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself.” (Discover the Networks)

Perhaps being anti-media wouldn’t necessarily help with liberals. But the Left is increasingly hostile toward any free speech. And for many Democrats, the fact that Holder kicked around Fox News would more than compensate his actions against the New York Times and Associated Press.

In 2012, Holder—always eager to leap into identity politics—helped advise African American pastors how to be politically active without getting in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. He worked with the IRS’s tax exempt organizations division official Peter Lorenzetti and the Congressional Black Caucus to help train pastors at the Conference of National Black Churches. (The Daily Caller, Sept. 13, 2013)

As a matter of principle, conservatives don’t mind this so long as the law applies across the board. However, this was inconsistent on two levels.

The Democratic Party has stood solidly by the Johnson Amendment, a law that threatens churches with loss of tax exempt status if they talk about politics to the congregation. This principle apparently only applies if it doesn’t help Democrats. Further, this training program occurred at the time the same IRS tax exempt organizations division was targeting Tea Party and conservative nonprofits.

As for that IRS targeting scandal, it was the Holder Justice Department that named Barbara Bosserman, a department trial attorney, to lead the investigation—despite the fact that she donated at least $6,750 to the Obama campaigns and the Democratic National Committee. Not surprisingly, the case closed with no charges.

But justice was never allowed to get in the way of partisan politics—another reason the party might owe him a more exalted role. Those favors go all the way back to the Clinton administration, where Holder served as the deputy attorney general—the number two to Janet Reno. It was Holder who helped craft a legal justification for President Bill Clinton’s controversial pardons of fugitive financier Marc Rich and terrorist leaders of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN.

A general disregard for the rule of law, a willingness to misuse the power of government for political ends and a brazen embrace of identity politics could make Holder a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination should he throw his hat in the 2020 ring.

Fred Lucas is the White House correspondent for the Daily Signal and the author of “Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections.”

Fred Lucas

Fred Lucas is the author of Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump (Bombardier Books, 2020). He is a journalist who reports for the Daily Signal,…
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