Drawing the Line: Taking the Lead in the Fight for Redistricting

03/17/2015 02:03 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2015

A "new Republican chutzpah" is how Bloomberg Politics recently described the antics of my own state's unaccountable Republican majority in proposing to hijack the awarding of Electoral College votes. A similar tale can be told in Wisconsin, in which a gerrymandered, unaccountable Republican legislature made Wisconsin the 25th "right to work" state.

In my blue state of Michigan, 51 percent of voters cast their ballots for Democratic state House candidates in 2014, and yet Republicans hold a solid majority in the chamber. As a result, the people of the Great Lakes State live under "right to work" and rape insurance rider laws, cuts to public schools, tax breaks for corporations and tax hikes for the middle class and the working poor... just for starters.

This is the story in state capitals across the country as Republicans have waged a calculated attack to control the redistricting pen where it counts -- in state legislatures. During the 2010 election cycle, Republicans capitalized on the national Republican wave by gaining control of legislative chambers throughout the country in order to control the subsequent redistricting and policy-making processes.

The impacts didn't just manifest themselves in the states; they're felt in Congress in a big way, too. In 2010, the right wing's investments in statehouse races allowed the GOP to gerrymander at least 20 additional solidly Republican congressional seats. The ultimate result of these Republican-drawn maps became clear in the 2012 election: Democrats won 1.7 million more votes in U.S. House races nationwide, but Republicans maintained their House majority. Like in the states, the policy impacts couldn't be clearer: 56 votes to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, obstruction of Department of Homeland Security funding, failure to reform immigration, and more.

So as a former state legislator and member of Congress who's witnessed Republican gerrymandering in action and seen its implications up close and personal, I decided to do something about it. That's why I joined the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) -- the Democratic committee working to elect Democrats in the states to protect and win Democratic majorities -- and agreed to lead Advantage 2020, an associated federal super PAC that focuses on redistricting.

I can attest to what many have begun to realize: state legislatures matter when it comes to determining the national policy and political landscape. In 36 states where legislators draw congressional district maps, state lawmakers determine the fate of 336 members of Congress.

Advantage 2020 was created to focus and organize Democratic resources in the effort to win the redistricting battle over the next three election cycles. In the 36 states in which legislators play a direct role in drawing congressional districts, Advantage 2020 is already conducting an extensive, research-driven analysis to project which specific districts are most crucial to the next redistricting cycle. Preliminary evaluations have led us to conclude that winning enough legislative elections to neutralize Republican gerrymandering will require a minimum investment of $70 million over the next three election cycles.

The focus of Advantage 2020 is to build Democratic power at the state level through all feasible avenues to provide greater leverage in the next round of map-drawing. In most states, this means that the focus will be winning a Democratic majority in at least one legislative chamber, but success may require different tactics in others.

Advantage 2020 is a tremendous undertaking, commensurate with both what is at stake in upcoming elections and the size of the challenge that lies ahead. The road back to a sensible democracy is long and expensive, but it is one that starts now with the leadership of Democratic state legislators and the DLCC.

As Democratic candidates win elections, the process of ensuring fair redistricting maps after 2020 becomes a reality. It is the unified effort of Democratic state legislative leaders -- together with a broad coalition of labor and progressive allies and Democratic committees -- that, together with Advantage 2020, will ensure fair electoral maps and a true representative democracy.