2010 was bad for many reasons, but perhaps worst among them was the boost it provided to GOP efforts to use gerrymandering to delay their slide into political irrelevance.
The GOP picked up 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate. And that was horrible. But the real damage was done at the state level, where they picked up 680 state legislative seats and 29 of the 50 governorships, including in key states such as Ohio, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They also held absolute control in half the state legislatures.
Thus, Republicans were able to not just solidify their control of the House, where they maintain a 33-seat advantage despite losing the House popular vote by one point in 2012, but they locked in control of myriad state legislatures. And you can just scroll down this site to see the damage those wingnut legislatures are wreaking across the country. Thus, we can't allow a repeat of 2020. Republicans are on the wane. The only way they can retain power is via voter suppression or gerrymandering. We must deny them both those options.
As you can see with this map, most states still redistrict via state legislatures, subject to a governor's veto. We have found the last few cycles that when a state deadlocks on drawing boundaries, a fair map designed by judges ends up benefiting Democrats, and even if it doesn't, fair is fair. So gaining the ability to merely block a map is generally a net gain for us.
Winning back heavily gerrymandered state legislatures is not always impossible, but is far more difficult than merely winning back governorships. So how are races in 2014 relevant to 2020? It's all about the power of incumbency.
Learn more about the power of incumbency below the fold.
We all know the power of incumbency, how elected officials are more likely to retain power than lose it at the hands of a challenger. So it's simple: Democrats retaking GOP-held seats in 2014 will run for re-election in 2018 with all the advantages of incumbency, and will be in office during the 2020 redistricting process (which actually happens in 2021, after census numbers are released).
And we're not talking just any governors, but governors of the most blatantly gerrymandered states: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Texas, even, if you want to be extra optimistic. (North Carolina, another brutal gerrymander, won't be up until 2016.)
In Michigan, Republicans hold nine of 14 seats despite losing the state at the presidential level by 9.5 points.
In Wisconsin, Republicans hold five of eight seats despite losing the state by six points at the presidential level.
In Pennsylvania, Republicans hold 13 of 18 seats despite losnig the state by about 5 1/2 points at the presidential level.
In Florida, Republicans hold 17 of 27 seats despite narrowly losing the state at the presidential level.
In Ohio, Republicans hold 12 of 16 seats despite losing the state by three points at the presidential level.
(And hey, Virginia is outside the scope of this piece because its governors don't get to run for re-election, but Republicans hold eight of 11 seats despite losing the state by four points at the presidential level. And North Carolina, where Mitt Romney won narrowly, Republicans hold nine of 13 seats.)
We don't want to wait until 2022 to retake the House, and hopefully we won't. But we won't see a House that reflects the nation until we have rationally drawn districts. And we won't see that until we erase these gross gerrymanders.
Consider this: If the states listed above had 50-50-ish delegations, Democrats would gain 14 of the 17 seats they need for the majority. And given most of those states' politics, they shouldn't even be 50-50.
Those aren't the only states where the House delegation doesn't accurately reflect the state's partisan leanings. Those aren't the only governorships that matter. But they headline a year in which the battle for state houses truly matters far beyond the states themselves. Indeed, they'll have a serious impact on the shape for Congress well into the 20s.