Amy Walter: It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway. If you work in politics, one of the first things you learn is to plan your life around even and odd-numbered years. The even-numbered years, of course, are election years. They're not really that conducive to things that require planning like a wedding or a big move or require a lot of your attention like, I don't know, a baby. The odd-numbered years are often a ton of transition. You can finally catch your breath and take personal and professional inventory. I have my own transition to announce. After more than two-and-a-half years and 143 shows, give or take, the last Politics with Amy Walter will be the weekend of Friday, February 26th.
It has been a remarkable time to report on politics. From covering the historic number of women running for Congress in 2018 to following the twists and turns and the unpredictable race for the 2020 Democratic nomination to reporting on the unprecedented challenge of holding an election during a pandemic, our goal was always to help our listeners understand not just where we are, but how we got there and to help prepare you for what was around the corner. It's in that spirit that I want to spend these last four shows, looking at the political challenges ahead to understand their root causes and to understand how they're being addressed or ignored.
For me, there's no issue of greater concern than the loss of trust in our institutions. According to a recent Marist/NPR/PBS NewsHour Poll, the proportion of Americans who think the nation is on the right track is at its lowest point in 20 years. A mob descended on the US Capitol in the literal attempt to overthrow an election. Thousands of Americans took to the streets this summer to protest the long-standing police violence against Black and brown Americans.
That skepticism of the government didn't start with President Trump's attacks on the deep state or his claims of voter fraud, mistrust of the police didn't begin with the murder of George Floyd, and mistrust of corporate and business leaders wasn't created by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. How long have we been here? How did we get here? Is there any hope that we can find some resolution?
For that, I turned to two people who I think have provided some of the most insightful and thoughtful analysis on the state of American institutions; Jamelle Bouie opinion columnist at The New York Times, and Yuval Levin, the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor-in-chief of National Affairs. I first asked Yuval to tell me what it means to have trust in institutions and how we got to the point where trust is so low.
Yuval Levin: It's almost a cliché by now to say that Americans have been losing trust in institutions, and that's certainly been happening for a long time, but it's worth stopping and asking, "What does that actually mean? What is trust in an institution?" Part of the answer to that is some sense of competence and ability. Surely, we trust an institution that does its job well, but another key part of that is that we trust an institution when it seems to shape the people within it, to be trustworthy, when it somehow plays a formative role, an ethical role, that creates more trustworthy people.
Every institution performs some function. It educates children or enforces the law, it helps the poor, it makes a product, but as it does that, it also forms the people in it to do that work by some standard of integrity. We can trust the institution when those people seem to take that standard seriously. That especially means when it somehow constrains them, when they're bound by some idea of integrity.
If you think about who we trust and how we trust, maybe we trust a journalist because we have a sense that she works in some institutional framework of editing and verification. That means that when she says something it's been checked.
We trust a lawyer because he seems to be bound by some professional code. There are things a lawyer wouldn't do. We've been going through a process in America by which we've lost the sense that our various elites are actually bound in these ways that there are things they wouldn't do. It feeds a general sense that the systems in our country are not working for us. They're working for the people inside them. Those people rather than being formed and shaped by them, are somehow just displayed by them.
The institutions are platforms, and everybody stands on them and shows off or builds a following or builds their brand. That makes institutions very hard for us to trust, and it makes the whole system that they're part of hard for Americans to feel a part of themselves. We all look at them as outsiders and that sense of the outsider, that sense of alienation is at the core of a lot of what we think of as the other problems in this broader social crisis.
Amy: Jamelle, what makes our relationships to institutions so unique at this moment in history?
Jamelle Bouie: My thought on what is the stink about the current period is that we have, in addition to elite impunity of various sorts, elite misbehavior of various sorts, we also have the underlying material conditions that are changing for the worst; wage stagnation, the decline in stable jobs, the rising cost of healthcare, education, housing, et cetera, et cetera, all the things that we're pretty familiar with. Not just the decline in living standards, but I'd also argue a decline in the sense that individuals can have any impact on the world around them.
In the past couple of years, there's been a lot more conversation about the need for revitalizing unions, and that's typically discussed in terms of raising living standards. The other thing that unions did at their best, this is not certainly uniform, but at their best, what unions did was invest ordinary workers with some amount of control accountability, democratic efficacy about their workplaces as well.
We don't really have that anymore. You have that on one end and on the other end, you do have these profound demographic changes. People are making claims from the state that in previous eras, in previous decades, were not seem to have a right to make a claim on the state. I think that those two things are acting together to produce something particular and unique.
Yuval: There are distinct ways in which people now have an ability to express themselves, which didn't exist before, and yet there are also ways in which people have less of an ability to actually exercise agency and act in the world. The combination of those things has meant that we increasingly now tend to mistake expression for action.
What happens in a lot of our institutions is that they become platforms for performance because we have all these mechanisms for performance. We have social media, we have various ways of fragmenting the forms of expression that seemed like they allow people to have much more of a voice than they used to. Yet at the same time, because of things like the decline of unions, also the decline of community and civic institutions and family, people actually have less agency in American public life than might've been the case two and three generations ago.
That combination contributes to what I think is a distinct kind of loss of trust in institutions in the sense that we think of them as transformed into just platforms, and what everybody seems to be doing at the top of every institution is performing. A member of Congress now, younger members in both parties, very often think of their jobs as playing a part in a kind of political theater as the advantage of being elected to Congress is that you can get a bigger social media following, a better time slot on cable news or talk radio, and that's how you can make a difference rather than thinking that you can work within some kind of functional legislative process.
Now they're not wrong. They actually have much more of a chance to move the culture by expression than members of Congress used to and less of a chance to move public policy through legislation than members of Congress used to. Those two dysfunctions act together to create what I think is a different kind of loss of trust in institutions. It's certainly related to those long-standing critiques that have been part of how Americans have thought about our institutions forever.
Amy: There's this rallying cry on the right about cancel culture. How do you balance this, Yuval, with questioning where our institutions go, trying to strengthen or reimagine them at the same time, you have a significant swath of the American public that believes by just doing that, by just raising the question you are essentially de-legitimizing their place in America?
Yuval: I think it's an enormously complicated question. What you find on the right now is a form of the American right that is anti-institutional. In a sense, the way that the right can help a free society, the way that conservatism serves a liberal society is by defending the institutions. Sometimes defending them from the people in them or the people who run them, but defending the roles they play.
To see an anti-institutional conservatism or at least an anti-institutional right develop is very worrisome, and can be an enormous problem for a free society. We've already begun to see what that can look like. It is rooted as you're suggesting, in a kind of fear, a fear that the left has come to dominate our major institutions and that it's using that dominance to exclude the right, to exclude different views, to exclude different ways of life. People feel as if there's institutional power being used against them, generally not in politics but in the culture, increasingly in the economy, in the media, in the academy, being used to exclude them.
That sense of fear is absolutely essential to understanding what's going on in the contemporary right. A lot is driven by a fear of the left. I think that fear is rooted in some legitimate concerns but that it is also exaggerated in ways that has turned the right against our core institutions.
Ultimately, the right has now found itself basically arguing for safe spaces, arguing for simply free speech to be allowed to do whatever they want, rather than arguing for, "What is the university supposed to be?" or, "What is the media's role?" Making a case for these institutions in a positive way rather than making a purely defensive case for yourself against an adversary. That makes it very difficult for the right to see the purpose of our institutions, and without seeing that, it's very hard to see the purpose of conservatism.
Amy: Jamelle, what do you see as these fights about cancel culture and "defund the police", et cetera? What do they tell you about the possibility that we can trust each other to make needed changes to institutions that, quite frankly, were built at a different time for different purposes and to reimagine them?
Jamelle: Part of me is surprisingly low key about all of this to the extent that I spend a lot of my time in 19th century American history. Compared to the cultural and political conflicts of, say, the 1880s and 1890s, things are still pretty tame. We're not looking at society-wide convulsions, we're not looking at mass communal violence. There are a lot of things that have fallen out of living memory for Americans. They didn't happen that long ago and were far more disruptive and destructive, you could say to a civic fabric than what we're experiencing now.
Having said that, the combination of American's usual fierce fights about what it means to live in this society, which are ongoing, and are just part of living in a pluralist democratic society, are running up against institutions that can't resolve them but can't even really make progress on them. There are other things happening too when we think about the, not just rise of conspiracism, but this very broke, acute spread of conspiracy theories. I don't think we can disconnect those sorts of things also from just the conditions of the pandemic and the profound isolation a lot of people have experienced, which in some ways is supercharging the alienation and lack of efficacy that people already feel.
When you bring that into it as well, you do get this potent mix that is producing a level of discontent and angry institutions and desire to dismantle institutions that is pretty striking.
Amy: Jamelle, I want you to talk about-- because you write a lot about this too, the institutions within institutions or institutionalism within an institution like Congress, like the filibuster, or not impugning someone's name on the House floor. These are things that are being defended as, "We can't change these things because if you do that, then you are undermining the institution itself." Do you want to talk about that and how maybe just reforming some of the things that we assume our institutions can actually help shore up an institution?
Jamelle: The filibuster is a great example here because so much of the-- or even about it and around it has confused what it does with the purpose of the Senate itself. For me, everything about the design of the Senate is geared towards making this a body that more or less operates on deliberation. Once deliberation is accomplished, you take a vote, and whoever has the most votes, succeeds. My understanding was that just the process of deliberation would mean that when votes are taken, they're not actually going to be that narrow, that just in the nature of things, you would have a good amount of consensus for when things happened.
When you look at something like the filibuster, which wasn't really a part of the scheme, which was accidentally created and then discovered later on, which wasn't really in use very much until the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and then in its modern form constitutes a supermajority requirement for most legislation, that to me seems to be something that ultimately is actually standing in the way of the idea of the Senate. That by becoming a [unintelligible 00:15:12] supermajority requirement, it actually discourages policy entrepreneurship, it discourages debate, it discourages everything. It's because everyone knows that you're not really ever going to come to anything like a consensus, or if you do, the threshold is not going to-- you're never going to reach it.
Amy: Right. That 55 is somehow not bipartisan, but 60 is?
Jamelle: Right. Or even thinking just outside of partisanship that if you assemble 52 votes of senators who, let's say if 90% of them belong to one party, but it's in just the nature of the things that they're all coming from different states and different regions of the country [unintelligible 00:15:50] constituencies, that doesn't constitute a consensus that all are to be able to pass legislation.
It's a perversion of the purpose of the Senate. I think you can see that in how slowed down and sluggish the Senate has debilitated the entire legislative branch and contributed to both the executive branch and the judiciary acting in ways that they probably shouldn't. For me, the filibuster might be an institution, but it's become maladaptive to what the actual thing is supposed to be doing in the Senate, and that's why we should reform it.
Amy: Where are we at this moment in time where people are literally storming the Capitol to overthrow one of our most sacred institutions, which is our Federal Government? Do you believe that there is a possibility that there will be enough people in good faith that can rebuild these bonds of trust? How optimistic are you?
Yuval: Well, optimism just means you expect good things to happen. I'm not an optimist. I think there's a different thing though. There's a different force called hope, which is different from optimism. Hope means you think that the resources are there if we work at it to make good things happen. It requires agency, not sitting back and expecting the best. I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I think a lot of people who are aware of these problems now, feel them in their bones as problems are not satisfied with the status quo.
We have to think about how to fix problems with an eye to enabling our institutions, our society, in general, to work. We have to think like physicians so that there is such a thing as health, and there is something wrong and that something wrong can be fixed. The aim ultimately is to enable our society to function as it's meant to and as we want it to and as would serve us well.
I think that what's missing now, the missing ingredient in a lot of our institutions is a sense that constructive reform is possible. We've talked about Congress. If you talk to members of Congress now, and I've certainly had this experience with Republican members at least, a lot of them can tell you in great detail what they don't like about Congress, but they don't live with the sense that they could just do something about it, they could change it, they could improve it, and that it doesn't have to be the way they found it. It wasn't always like this. It isn't always going to be like this. There are ways to improve it.
I honestly think part of the reason we find ourselves in this moment has to do with a failure of generational transition or at least a slowness of generational transition. Our leadership, and not only in politics, is unusually elderly in this moment. We have a 78-year-old president. He replaced a 74-year-old. The Speaker of the House is 80. The majority leader of the Senate is 78. There is not a lot of talk about the future in our politics. There's a lot of talk about various grievances that are very deep-seated but not enough about what we're going to need 20 years from now that we don't have now.
A more concrete practical politics that thinks about the future and that thinks about solving problems could be more functional. It's not that we wouldn't be at each other's throats, that really is what politics very often amounts to, but it would be aimed at more constructive goals. You see some of this at the state level, at the local level, in some places, not everywhere.
When politics can be a little more practical, when we can think about solving problems rather than just describing them and articulating them in ever greater tones of urgency and anger, then I do think that there are reasons to hope. Our country has come through harder times than this, but it will require a sense that the absence of trust is one of the problems to be solved itself and that therefore, ultimately, we have to find ways to live together.
I think that the idea of civility that people talk about in very vague terms can have a concrete meaning. Civility just means that you live as though you expect the people you disagree with to still be there tomorrow. A lot of our politics now seems to pretend that those people can just be made to go away somehow by some miracle, and that's not going to happen. If we live with the sense that these disagreements are still going to be here, but that ultimately, there are also real needs to be met and real problems to be solved, I do think a more practical politics is imaginable and is achievable.
Amy: Thank you for that. Yuval, Jamelle, thank you as well. I really enjoyed this conversation.
Jamelle: Thank you.
Yuval: Thanks very much.
Amy: Jamelle Bouie, opinion columnist at The New York Times, Yuval Levin editor-in-chief of National Affairs.
Another big issue just around the corner, redistricting. After the contentious 2020 election, Democrats, narrowly, control both houses of Congress, but the parties will battle it out with the re-drawing of congressional maps, which happens once per decade following the census. This process has the potential to influence the balance of power for years to come.
Republicans currently have control of redistricting in 18 States, including big ones like Florida, North Carolina, and Texas.
The seeds gained by redistricting alone may be enough to give Republicans a majority in the House in 2022, but The National Democratic Redistricting Committee has been strategizing for this moment for the past four years. I spoke with Kelly Ward Burton, their executive director, and asked her what kinds of things they've been doing to prepare for this moment.
Kelly Ward Burton: Our entire model and the reason for NDRC was to create a centralized hub for a comprehensive redistricting strategy so that we could prepare for this moment that we are now in. We've been very aggressively active in court to sue against the gerrymandered maps of the last decade and we've seen some real success on that front. Notably, we got new maps in North Carolina and Virginia which helped the congressional majority that we have now.
We also have been trying to move the needle on the power structure of redistricting both through elections, so who has a seat at the table when maps are drawn and also by supporting reforms to make the redistricting process more fair, the ballot initiatives to support independent, commissions statutory reforms, like in Ohio to give a voice to the minority party in the legislature.
Amy: What do you say to Democrats who feel like in some cases, these redistricting commissions might actually give Republicans an advantage?
Kelly: When you look at the redistricting power structure, it's really important to compare 2021 to 2011. It's not just the 2020 election. You have to go back and look at how we moved the needle since the last redistricting process. There has been a lot of movement in the direction of fairness since 2011. There's a number of things that you can point to.
For example, this is going to be the first time ever where the majority of congressional seats are drawn by either some type of commission or with some type of reformed effort in place that checks the majority.
The ability of the Republicans to do what they did last time, where they had trifecta control over the redistricting process in the vast majority of states to the tune of 213 congressional seats, that is no longer on the table. Look, we don't want to gerrymander for Democrats. We don't think that you need to break the system in our favor in order for us to win. We want the system to be fair. We want the maps to be fair. We want democracy to work. We're not scared of the voters. We want to have a system where we talk to them, we work with them, we make our case, and then voters have the opportunity to fairly choose one side or the other.
What we've seen from the Republicans over the course of the last several years, particularly in the last several months is that they are very willing to break democracy in order to maintain power. We are watching them very closely on redistricting because they're already indicating that they will use gerrymandering in the same way that they've been using voter suppression, in the same way that they've been using frivolous lawsuits.
All these tactics that we've seen from Trump and other Republicans to maintain power, no matter the cost to democracy, they're willing to do that. Gerrymandering is a version of that. We really see the fight for fair maps in the context of protecting and fortifying our democracy. That's how we see it. I think that's an accurate read on the situation. Commissions are part of that. Fairness is part of that. Fair maps is part of that. That's what we're going to be fighting for during this redistricting process.
Amy: Kelly Ward Burton is executive director at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The Republican counterpart to the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is the National Republican Redistricting Trust, and like the NDRC, they too are hard at work preparing for what's sure to be a long and drawn-out process. Did you catch that? Drawn out? Anyway, Adam Kincaid is the group's president and executive director. I spoke to him about their priorities as states start to organize ahead of redistricting.
Adam Kincaid: The National Republican Redistricting Trust focuses on data and litigation. Those are our primary jobs. Our number one thing we've done is we've built a redistricting database for all 50 States. People don't believe this when I tell them, but it's true. It's something we've actually never had on our side of the aisle before. That's handicapped our ability to help states that maybe are blue, but there are still Republicans there that would like to have a voice in the process.
That was our number one priority, was to fix that problem. Democrats have had groups that have done this for decades. We've never had a group that built this level of an exhaustive database until now. That was priority number one. Now the trust is moving forward into the next phase. We're doing a lot of public education. We're doing a lot of education with legislators, with legislative staff, then after the maps are drawn, we will go into a litigation phase.
Amy: I was going to ask you specifically about litigation because you also made this point, The New York Times did a piece recently featuring Democrats and Republicans and you, in particular, saying that your focus was going to be defending maps drawn by Republicans and being more aggressive about going after democratic gerrymanders in the blue states. Can you talk to us about the blue states that you're going to be spending time looking at? Where are states in which say in 2010 or in previous years you-- As you said, you were not aggressive enough and how you'll be more aggressive this time around.
Adam: When I'm talking about the blue states, I'm talking about the six states that Democrats have full control over congressional redistricting. Those are Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, and Illinois. What we're going to be doing is looking at each of those as the maps are drawn, how the process unfolds, and see. Do the Democrats adhere to their own state criteria? Do they adhere to federal law where it's applicable? Are there other opportunities for us to sue under state constitution?
This is something that Democrats did a really good job doing over the last few years, is they went into these states and they sued under state constitutions and brought some novel claims that had never been brought before. We're going to be looking to do the same sort of thing in those states because we haven't been on offense. We have been on constant defense for a decade and it cost us.
Amy: What do you foresee as the cases that you would be bringing up as you're looking at some of these maps that Democrats are going to be drawing?
Adam: One of the problems that we have with litigation moving forward is something that the Democrats ran up against last time, which is that the Supreme Court has said you can't bring partisan gerrymandering claims in federal court, which means a lot more of these claims are going to be brought in state courts. What Democrats have done is they've used clauses, like the free and fair elections clauses and state constitutions to go and sue and argue that maps should be redrawn.
We'll be looking at clauses like that, other ones that may allude to maybe geographic principles and redistricting that exists in some places that may be violated with maps drawn by Democrat legislatures and signed by Democrat governors on some of those spots. Those are the things we'll be looking at. We'll be finding plaintiffs and working with plaintiffs in states where there are Voting Rights Act claims that need to be brought. That's another thing that we'll definitely be talking to folks about in each state, as people come forward with issues.
Again, when you're looking at redistricting moving forward, the litigation that's going to come is going to be multi-faceted. You're going to have issues, but the problem is that Congress hasn't really spelled out those criteria. There's nothing in the US Constitution about what gerrymandering is, or is not, it's in the eye of the beholder. What we're going to be doing is looking into state constitutions that do have some of those criteria and looking at how we can bring cases around this.
Amy: Adam Kincaid, I really appreciate you taking the time and talking us through this. Obviously, we'll be talking to you a lot more as we go through this year.
Adam: I'm glad to. Thanks so much.
Amy: Adam Kincaid is president and executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust. [music]
We've been hearing how some partisan national organizations are strategizing for the work of redistricting, but a growing number of states have in recent years made attempts to strip politics out of this process by removing the map-making power from the legislature and handing it over to an independent commission. Who gets to be on this commission and how the process actually works varies from state to state.
I was interested in hearing how the commission process works in a state where it's already been tested. We turned to California whose first commission was formed back in 2010. This time around, there were 14 new members, but the process for choosing them work the same. Paul Mitchell is owner of Redistricting Partners and the vice-president of Political Data. He's based in Sacramento, California. We asked him to walk us through the steps.
Paul Mitchell: The commission process for getting people from an application to the actual seat on the commission was actually created by Charles Munger. A bow-tying conservative, unique guy with some flair created this process that I like to call chutes and ladders process for selecting commissioners, where you start with this broad application process, then any commissioner applicants who meet the base criteria, basically not conflicted out are then asked to do a second application with an essay component to talk a little bit more about them and why they want to be on the commission.
Then the state auditor's office, which has nothing to do with redistricting or politics, but was chosen because it's an objective agency, they see a panel that is randomly selected of attorneys from the state auditor's office to go through these applications and start selecting the highest qualified. They take these applicants, they narrow the field. It goes to the legislature where the legislature has a voir dire process in order to cut the list down even further, and then it goes back to the state auditor's office for this bouncing ball process, where they literally wheel in the bouncing ball machine from the state lottery-
Female Speaker 3: Number 1.
Paul: -and select randomly the first set of commissioners.
Female Speaker 3: Number 11, Jane Andersen.
Paul: That first set of commissioners, the lucky eight come in and they get the opportunity to be seated as the commission and they begin the commission process. That lucky eight's first job is to find six more commissioners to go back into that pool and to find applicants that balance out the commission. That balancing of the commission is done through the selection of what they call the chosen six.
Amy: This week, I had the opportunity to talk with two of the newly-minted commissions.
Jane Andersen: My name is Jane Andersen. I'm a registered civil and structural engineer in the state of California.
Sara: My name is Sara Sadhwani, I'm an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College.
Amy: I started out by asking them why on earth they chose to apply for this job.
Jane: I've basically always been civically minded. I follow what's going on. I have no desire whatsoever to be a politician, but I feel we all need to participate in the process. I have a specific skill set and something I don't do. The idea of writing a report that is not something that I would ever volunteer to do. When I saw this job opportunity or this opportunity, I thought this is the absolute perfect thing I could do to not just participate, but potentially be a valuable contributing member because what I do on a day in, day out basis is I work with people, I work with facts, data, grabbing information from many different sources. My ultimate product is a two-dimensional drawing.
That is exactly what this commission is going to do. I'm also used to working under extreme deadlines because my specialty is actually earthquake engineering, specifically failures, and collapses. When I'm called in, it's an emergency. You have to quickly get something done. It's wonderful but ultimately, the drawing has to go out the door at a specific time. That's what I thought I could bring to this commission.
Amy: Were you surprised that you made it through the entire process?
Jane: Oh, absolutely. I did have the luxury of watching most of this process, and I have to say my hats off to the state auditors who so, so well did their job, impartially out in the public. It was a wonderful experience to watch. Every single cut I thought I made it, I was shocked, I was elated. When my name came bouncing out of that little lottery ball, I literally went into shock. My husband was jumping up and down. It was amazing. I was shocked and greatly, greatly pleased.
Amy: Sara, can you tell us about your experience in this and your decision to apply in the first place?
Sara: Sure. I followed to some extent the 2010 process. I certainly knew about it and I understood what's at stake. I trained as a political scientist. I write about and conduct research on Asian-American and Latinx voter behavior and so I have a very clear sense of what's at stake. I just thought, "Well, I'll throw my name in because I think there needs to be a diverse pool of candidates." I never really, in a million years thought that my name would get chosen or that I would make it through the process. It was definitely a pleasant surprise and a shock, just an amazing opportunity to serve in this way, to serve the people of California.
Amy: How are you able to do your current day job and balance this? How much of your time, especially now that we're getting into the heart of redistricting, is this going to take up for you?
Sara: It's a challenge, I'm not going to lie. I definitely work at nights and weekends for sure to do both. I should also note that I have three young kids at home as well, so it's definitely a heavy workload, but also so rewarding. It's just incredible. It's an incredible opportunity to be able to work in this way. We are a 14-member commission made up of Democrats, Republicans, independents. We interact with one another and find common ground during this time of hyper-partisanship when it doesn't look like you would ever find common ground across the different parties. I think being a part of the commission brings me so much hope and joy that it's worth every moment.
Amy: This sounds so very refreshing, the way both of you were talking about this at this time that we're living in, which is so polarized, which is so partisan. Can you help us then understand the role, the job that the Citizens Redistricting Commission does and how partisanship plays into that? Jane Andersen, you identified as a Republican, Sara as a Democrat. How does partisanship become not as central? Or is it part of it, but you're just able to do this in a way that remains civil and collaborative?
Jane: As a registered Republican in California of course, I'm in the minority. The wonderful thing about this, which is one of the considerations I thought about before I applied, is in California on our independent commission, the one criteria that we cannot consider in redistricting is politics. Automatically you check that at the door. While it is, yes, things are hyper-partisan, that's not part of what we're doing.
Now, we do need to be aware of the politics, but it's from a different perspective. It's not, "How do we use this in our redistricting? It's, "How do we make sure it does not come into play in our redistricting?" One of the criteria is we, as a commission, cannot know where incumbents live, and therefore if we're going to redraw a district or something, and we might literally put across the street, move into another district or do another district, we would know that. We actually have the luxury of not having to deal with it, quite frankly. As Sara was saying, all the commissioners are very, very good about working together.
Amy: One of the other goals of doing the independent redistricting commission is, of course, to get in front of as many Californians as you can, to hear their input. Obviously, you have to do this in the middle of a health crisis. Sara, can you talk a little bit about how you plan on doing that? How you plan on getting input from communities all across this humongous state?
Sara: Two pieces, I suppose. One, the criteria set forth for our commission in California state law is very clear, that there we have to be in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. We have to go out and receive community input. It is a part of our mandate. While 10 years ago that meant physically going around the state and getting that input, having community input sessions all over the state, that is less likely this time around.
We are planning our outreach via Zoom for now. We're also very much prepared and ready to pivot hopefully when the situation changes. It's more possible for at least some of us to be getting out into the communities, whether that's interacting with people, in-person, or even just going and spending time to really look at different parts of the state before we have to make decisions about where those lines will be drawn.
That's extraordinarily important to us. It's a part of our mandate. Actually, we're starting already a whole outreach component just to do education, just to get folks ready to understand, "What is redistricting?" and, "Why should I care about it?" before we go back out again to get the actual community input, to hear from communities about where their community lies, what ties them together, and why their communities should stay together when we redraw district lines.
Amy: Look, now, it's been just a month since the storming of the United States Capitol. We know how raw emotions are around politics that our conversations about politics now have become so-- it's much more than polarized. In many ways, it's taken on these levels of distrust and dislike like we've not seen before. I'm wondering how you feel now about being a face of a government institution. Do you have concerns about your own safety or what this is going to mean for you and your family to be in this position?
Sara: To some extent, in my day job because I write about communities of color, BIPOC communities and discrimination, et cetera, that's always to some extent a little bit of a concern for me. That being said, however, my belief in the American people is that we are ready for a new era of good governance, of transparency, of moving toward a renewed trust in government, I hope. That is my hope for the American people, as well as for the people of California. Commissions like this can help play a role in moving us towards that, in understanding that we can put some greater good in front of our personal interests and that we can collaborate and work together to do that.
For me, it brings me a lot of hope that this commission could be a symbol of a potential future that's without so much violence, that create spaces where people can listen to one another and work through their differences. That to me, is something really exciting and it's exciting to see as more and more states take on the idea of independent commissions for the redistricting, to remove it from the hands of partisanship and to put that power back with the people.
Amy: Jane, what about you? How do you handle that?
Jane: Well, I had the luxury of-- I have been anonymous, although I'm easily recognizable in my community. I live in Berkeley, so there are very few registered Republicans in Berkeley and that's never been a problem. I actually run the neighborhood group that I send the information out to. I know people all over the city. I think many would be surprised to know I am a Republican. Berkeley is a very tolerant area, so we have all sorts.
Going elsewhere, I'm a bit like Sara in that we are representing, we're actually going to listen to people, and most people want to be listened to. We're trying to be there as we're coming in, not, "Hey, here's the government coming in." We're coming in with trusted partners. Whatever the area we're going to we're not just walking in cold, we're walking in with another attachment.
The idea of what we're trying to portray is that we are here to listen to you to get you involved so whatever your voice is, it can be heard in government, whatever that voice is, we don't care. It's, "We want you to get involved and we want you to be able to pick your representatives, not have the representatives pick you." I'm hoping that people will come to us. As far as the bad things and stuff, all my life, I've been in construction as a woman, a young woman in construction. You have selective hearing. It's that simple.
Amy: Sara, Jane, I wish you the best of luck. I do hope you can indeed go out and see these places for yourself, not just over Zoom, but even over Zoom. I'm sure you all will do an excellent job. Thanks so much for joining me. I appreciate it.
Jane: Thank you very much.
Sara: Thank you so much.
Amy: Jane Andersen and Sara Sadhwani are members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Here's one more thing from me. We started this hour talking about earning faith in American institutions and ended it hearing from two California women, one Republican and one Democrat who believes that they can make a difference in shaping our democracy. These two regular people with busy lives and other responsibilities tugging at them decided that their voice mattered.
Yuval Levin said hope more than optimism is what keeps him engaged in the work of trying to heal our nation's divides. Optimism implies that all will turn out okay in a passive way, but hope is the acknowledgment that it might not. Hope also requires as he said agency. Without hope we're just stuck in a cul-de-sac of cynicism, always looking for someone else to blame instead of figuring out ways to be part of the solution. It's not that our institutions have failed us as much as our leaders of those institutions have failed them. The church leaders who didn't protect vulnerable children, the politicians who've abused the public trust, the corporate CEO who put profit over his workers' safety.
If you want to fix her institutions, then be prepared to take ownership of the ones in which you are a part, be prepared to put the greater good of that institution ahead of your own personal needs and desires. Be willing to believe that those who have different ideas can be allies, not just enemies.
That's all for us today. Our senior producer is Amber Hall. Patricia Yacob is our associate producer. We had producer help this week from Lydia McMullen-Laird. Polly Irungu, Meg Dalton are our digital editors. David Gebel is our executive assistant. Jay Cowit is our director and sound designer. Sean Sandra is our board op. Vince Fairchild is our board op and engineer. Our executive producer is Lee Hill. Thanks so much for listening. It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway.
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