With an election looming, courts earlier this year declared congressional districts in two states to be unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. One map was redrawn. The other was not.
The sharply contrasting outcomes that resulted on Election Day in Pennsylvania and North Carolina illustrate the importance of how political lines are drawn—and the stakes for the nation because that process helps determine which party controls Congress.
Pennsylvania flipped from a solid Republican congressional delegation to one evenly split under a map redrawn by court order, contributing to the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House. Despite an almost even split in the popular vote, North Carolina’s congressional delegation remained overwhelmingly Republican under a map drawn by the GOP.
“We did everything we could,” Democrat Kathy Manning said. “But we just could not overcome the gerrymandering, and that’s the way the district was designed to run.”
Manning held more than 400 campaign events, contacted tens of thousands of voters and had outspent the Republican incumbent in North Carolina’s 13th District—but still lost by 6 percentage points in a district Republicans drew to favor their candidates.
Partisan gerrymandering has been carried out by both Democrats and Republicans throughout U.S. history. But an Associated Press statistical analysis based on 2016 election data found that more states, including Wisconsin, had Republican-tilted districts than Democratic ones. Some of the largest GOP congressional advantages were in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where Republicans fully controlled redistricting after the 2010 Census.
One of the Democrats’ biggest edges was in Maryland, where they were in charge of the last redistricting.
A follow-up AP analysis using preliminary 2018 election data shows the Republican statistical edge was cut in half under Pennsylvania’s new court-ordered congressional map but grew even larger in North Carolina.
Though an increasing number of states have adopted independent commissions, many states still rely on lawmakers and governors to draw legislative and congressional districts. Republicans controlled that process in far more states than Democrats because of their electoral success nationwide in 2010. Those maps were in place for the Nov. 6 elections, except in places where courts ordered them redrawn, and will be again in 2020.
The results have national implications: Democrats potentially could have won even more seats in the U.S. House and state legislatures had it not been for Republican gerrymandering.
North Carolina is a prime example of gerrymandering’s consequences.
Republicans and Democrats in this month’s elections split the total votes cast for major party candidates in the state’s 13 congressional districts about evenly, with Republicans getting 51 percent (a figure that is slightly inflated because one GOP incumbent ran unopposed). Yet Republicans won 10 of those races, about three-quarters of the total seats.
That equates to a pro-Republican tilt of nearly 26 percent under an “efficiency gap” analysis that provides a statistical way of measuring the partisan advantages that can stem from gerrymandering. That figure was up from about 20 percent in 2016.
By comparison, Democrats in Pennsylvania received 54 percent of this year’s total two-party vote for congressional candidates, including one race where a Democratic incumbent ran unopposed. Democrats and Republicans each won 9 seats under a map drawn by the Democratic-tilted state Supreme Court with the assistance of an outside expert.
That marked a significant shift from the 13-5 Republican majority in the state’s congressional delegation during the three previous general elections under a map that had been enacted in 2011 by the Republican-led Legislature and governor.
Pennsylvania’s pro-Republican “efficiency gap” fell from 16 percent in the AP’s 2016 analysis to 7 percent under this year’s court-drawn map—a level that some political scientists attribute to the high concentrations of Democrats in urban areas that make it more difficult for them to win elsewhere.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew districts after it ruled that partisan gerrymandering in the old map infringed on a state right to “free and equal” elections. One of the Democrats who sued was Bill Marx, a high school civics teacher in Pittsburgh who said he feared that legislative gerrymandering was building apathy and cynicism in the next generation of voters.
Marx said he believes the new district boundaries resulted in “a more fair congressional representation of the will of the people in Pennsylvania.”
But Pennsylvania Republican Party spokesman Jason Gottesman said the new map “put Democrats at an unfair advantage in this election.” Republicans contend the court overstepped its powers by adopting new districts, a duty that belongs to the Legislature.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court robbed us of at least three to four congressional seats that we might not have lost if the redistricting would not have happened the way that it did,” Gottesman said.
While Republicans are fuming in Pennsylvania, Democrats remain frustrated in North Carolina. There, the GOP-drawn congressional boundaries pack Democratic voters into three highly concentrated districts. Republicans are spread more evenly across the other 10 districts.
Republicans “have gerrymandered the heck out of lots of different places,” said Democratic voter Melinda Wilkinson, a retired music teacher from Raleigh. She added: “It seems very unfair.”
Republican state Rep. David Lewis, who helped shepherd the congressional map through North Carolina’s GOP-led General Assembly, acknowledged politics played a role in the districts but said there is no evidence that Democratic voters were prevented from “fully participating and exercising their right to choose the candidates of their choice.”
In August, federal judges ruled that North Carolina’s congressional districts violate protections for Democratic voters but determined there wasn’t enough time to redraw them before the Nov. 6 elections. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to hear an appeal in that case.
For state legislative districts, the AP’s analysis has found some of the largest partisan advantages in Michigan and Wisconsin. Democrats won 52 percent of the total major party vote for the Michigan House this year and flipped several Republican-held districts, yet Republicans still won 53 percent of the seats.
Republicans controlled Michigan’s last redistricting by holding the governor’s office and both legislative chambers. They won’t control the next redistricting: A Democrat won the governor’s race, but voters made that irrelevant by approving a constitutional amendment shifting redistricting to an independent commission.
In Wisconsin, a federal judicial panel invalidated the state Assembly districts as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in 2016. But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that in June and sent the case back to the lower court to establish whether there was harm to particular voters. A new trial is set for April.
Preliminary results from the 2018 elections show Wisconsin Democrats received 54 percent of the total votes cast for major party Assembly candidates—a figure inflated by the fact that Democrats ran unopposed in 30 districts compared to just eight for Republicans.
Yet Republicans won 63 of 99 Assembly seats, just one less than their pre-election majority. That marks an increase in the pro-Republican “efficiency gap” from about 10 percent in 2016 to almost 15 percent this year. Democrats also won all of Wisconsin’s statewide offices, showing voter support for their candidates in races that are not affected by gerrymandering.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called it a “faulty premise” to say that Republicans’ legislative majority is due to gerrymandering.
“We are the ones who have been given a mandate to govern,” Vos said.
But Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said “Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps worked exactly as Republicans intended.” He said non-competitive districts have made it increasingly difficult for Democrats to recruit candidates and raise money.
Wisconsin Progress, an organization that recruits and trains liberal candidates, said 30 of the 31 Democratic candidates it backed in Republican-held Assembly districts ended up losing in the Nov. 6 elections.
“No matter what happens, no matter who’s in the White House or what the national trends are or how much money you have, you just can’t beat gerrymandered seats,” said Eric Couto, executive director of Wisconsin Progress. “That’s the whole point of gerrymandering.”
A gunman opened fire Monday at a Chicago hospital, killing a police officer and two hospital employees in an attack that began with a domestic dispute and exploded into a firefight with law enforcement inside the medical center. The suspect was also dead, authorities said.
It was not immediately clear if the attacker took his own life or was killed by police at Mercy Hospital on the city’s South Side, police said.
“The city of Chicago lost a doctor, pharmaceutical assistant and a police officer, all going about their day, all doing what they loved,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, fighting back tears. “This just tears at the soul of our city. It is the face and a consequence of evil.”
The chain of events that led to the shooting began with an argument in the hospital parking lot involving the gunman and a woman with whom he was in a domestic relationship, police said.
When a friend of the woman’s tried to intervene, “the offender lifted up his shirt and displayed a handgun,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
The woman’s friend ran into the hospital to call for help, and the gunfire began seconds later, with the attacker killing the woman he was arguing with, whom Johnson described only as a hospital employee.
When officers arrived, the suspect fired at their squad car and then ran inside the hospital. The officers gave chase.
Inside the hospital, the gunman exchanged fire with officers and “shot a poor woman who just came off the elevator” before he was killed, Johnson said.
The slain officer was identified as Samuel Jimenez, who joined the department in February 2017 and had just recently completed his probationary period, Johnson said.
The identities of the other victims, and the gunman, were not immediately released.
James Gray said he saw at least two people get shot. He said he was coming out of the clinic area when he saw a man in a black coat, black hat and dark pants shoot a woman three times in the chest. The man and the woman had been walking and talking to each other before the shooting, Gray said.
The gunman stood over the woman and shot her three more times after she fell to the ground, Gray said. Then a squad car turned its lights on and came down the drive, and the gunman shot at the squad car.
Gray said the gun looked like a 9 mm handgun; a police source said authorities had identified it as a 9 mm.
When the gunman came into the hospital, it appeared he was shooting people at random, said Gray, who saw one other person shot.
“And then I ran into the X-ray department and locked the door behind us,” he said.
“I thought it was unbelievable,” said Gray. “It’s like a movie scene. Nothing like that ever happened to me before.”
Hector Avitia was watching television in a waiting room at the hospital with his wife when the woman was shot. Avitia watched through windows as a person in blue scrubs was shot outside and fell to the ground, he said. Officers exchanged fire with the shooter, and the shooter reloaded and fired again at the victim on the ground, Avitia said. The shooter then made his way inside the hospital as Avitia and those with him hid by a desk.
“Oh my God,” said Avitia, when asked how many gunshots he heard. “Reloaded twice. So 32 bullets each.”
Avitia said he had never seen anything like the shooting before. “I’ve heard shootings,” he said. “I’ve known people that have died in the neighborhood like that. But something like that? No.”
Avitia said he was more alert than scared.
“It’s just a messed up situation and I was trying to help out as much as I could,” he said. “Get people to get out of the way of the windows. Because he could have easily just aimed at us, too.”
The photo depicted a dilapidated building with graffiti-covered walls and a roof that had sprouted weeds and a gaping hole.
Objectively, it is an eyesore on Janesville’s near south side. But for some Gazette readers, the photo that graced the Nov. 15 front page conjured memories of better times.
Long before 1102 Rockport Road became the face of a story about Janesville’s vacant buildings, it was Swanson’s grocery store.
City officials weren’t entirely sure what the property had been, but they thought it had served as storage space and possibly a print shop in recent years. A flurry of readers contacted The Gazette after the story ran to identify the building as Swanson’s.
“They had the best meat in town at the time when they were down there. They were very friendly people to get along with,” Ken Vogel said. “They did enjoy their business and enjoyed their customers. It was always a pleasure to go down there.
“I hate to see the thing in the shape it’s in, but bygones be bygones.”
An Aug. 8, 1940, article in The Gazette shared details of the store’s grand opening at the corner of Washington Street and Rockport Road, then known as Western Avenue. The building was the former Jaeger Bakery garage.
This wasn’t the first Swanson’s location. It operated from 1922 to 1927 in Footville and opened a second store in 1926 at 16 E. Racine St. in Janesville. Another Swanson’s at the corner of Center and Western (Rockport) avenues opened in 1930 before closing and moving one block west to the currently vacant property, according to the 1940 Gazette story.
That story also refers to a credit payment system, which Carolyn Peterson remembers well.
Her family lived on a farm west of Janesville. Her mom called in her grocery order, and Peterson drove into town to fetch the food. Workers boxed up the order and placed it in her trunk, she said.
She signed a slip, and her mom paid the bill when she could.
Peterson’s sister, Barb Curtis, was the daughter-in-law of Irma Curtis, one of the store’s owners.
Brothers Harold and Henry Swanson operated the store in its early days. Both later served on Janesville City Council and then retired to Clearwater, Florida. They sold the store to their cousin Wally Swenson (yes, that’s the spelling) in 1945, according to Gazette archives.
Reader Richard Williams said while the building now would be considered a “little, dinky store,” it was one of Janesville’s most modern groceries when he shopped there as a boy in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Alice Hessenauer raved about Swanson’s meat department, which had a butcher who gave shoppers the cut of meat they wanted. If the store didn’t have the kind of meat someone was looking for, staffers would alert the customer once it arrived, she said.
Most readers who spoke to The Gazette on Monday thought Swanson’s had closed sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s. But the grocery store placed an ad in The Gazette as late as March 1980.
In October of that year, a family took out an ad in the newspaper, thanking several employees by name “for their courteous assistance over these many years.” In May 1981, the building was listed for sale in the paper for $90,000.
Peterson said she loves shopping at Woodman’s nowadays and called Swanson’s “Woodman’s before it was Woodman’s.” But Woodman’s, Festival and other big-box grocers don’t know the average shopper by name.
“You can never go back and get that kind of atmosphere. I’m sure there are some little towns that have stores like that,” Peterson said. “But in today’s world, they’re pretty rare. Swanson’s was a wonderful place to be.
“Everybody knew your name.”
William B. Church
Norbert A. Fike
Donald H. Hansen
William Gene Larson
Stanley D. Myers
Malinda A. Peterson
Eileen M. Warn
Roxeen A. Woodard