Republican hopes for control of House are dimmed
Boston — Republican hopes for help from congressional redistricting in gaining control of the US House of Representatives may be fast fading. With new political boundaries drawn in 22 states, Democrats overall appear to be holding their own.
And there is little to suggest that GOP prospects are bright in most of the remaining 22 states that will have more than a single congressman come January 1983.
Among the latter, only two states have Republicans controlling the governorship and legislature and thus the territorial carving process. They are Pennsylvania, where two of the current 25 US House seats must be eliminated, and Washington State, which is to have eight seats (one more than at present).
In nine of the others, including New Jersey where lawmakers are in the process of agreeing on a realignment plan, Democrats have majorities in both legislative chambers and hold the executive chair. The other eight are Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
The remaining still unredistricted states - Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Michigan , Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin - have the governorship and at least one of the legislative chambers in different party hands.
In Montana, however, the districting is in the hands of an outside bipartisan special commission, and in both Colorado and Missouri federal courts have stepped in and taken over the job from deadlocked lawmakers.
Republicans, now outnumbered 243 to 192 by the Democrats in the House, are counting on narrowing that gap with a net gain of at least 12 seats stemming from redistricting.
However, figures and other factors, such as the existence of a strongly entrenched incumbent within a district, indicate that Democrats are in a strong position to pick up nine new congressional seats while Republicans may gain eight.
In Texas, Democrats concede that at least two of the three seats to be added to the state's current total of 24 can be considered Republican. And GOP officials are optimistic about picking up a third.
Redistricting strategists at the Republican National Committee also foresee an additional two seats in Indiana, and one-seat gains in Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah.
Meanwhile, Democrats are counting a potential five-seat increase in California, a pick up of two in Illinois, and one-seat gains in Iowa and Tennessee.
The California districting, fashioned by Democratic US Rep. Phillip Burton and pushed through the Democratic-controlled state Legislature to an enthusiastic Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., may be in jeopardy, however.
Irate Republicans, who may stand to lose three of the 21 seats they now have within the state's current 43-member congressional delegation, have collected some 775,000 voter signatures (nearly twice the amount required) to place the question of redistricting repeal on next June's California primary ballot.
Democratic-initiated litigation seeking to block the move is scheduled for a Jan. 11 hearing before the California Supreme Court.
Suits in at least eight other states are challenging newly approved redistricting. These include an NAACP challenge to a reshaped North Carolina congressional district rejected by the US Justice Department earlier this month. The Justice Department rejected the plan on grounds it violates the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the potential for blacks to elect a black congressman. North Carolina state officials are deciding whether to give redistricting another try or appeal the case to a federal court.
In Mississippi, where blacks comprise 35 percent of the state population, the overwhelmingly white Legislature brushed aside a proposal to create a district in the delta area, 65 percent of whose inhabitants are black.
While most of the districts across the nation deviate but slightly in residents, and thus meet ''one-man, one-vote'' standards, many fall far short of the goal of compactness.
Many of the newly carved elective territories make proud the tradition of Elbridge Gerry, the Democratic Massachusetts governor of 169 years ago, whose political craftsmanship produced a salamander-shaped congressional district, giving rise to the term gerrymander.
Particularly contorted is California's new Fifth District, which winds its uneven way around the San Francisco Bay area to boost the reelection prospects of US Rep. John Burton (D), younger brother of US Rep. Phillip Burton (D) the chief boundary-drawer. Describing the district as ''gorgeous,'' the older Burton noted with pride how ''it curls in and out like a snake.''
In Tennessee the new Fourth District cuts its awkward way some 300 miles down the state from northeast of Knoxville to southwest of Nashville, narrowing in places to a width of less than 25 miles.
Hardly less grotesque are some of the recentlyfashioned districts in Massachusetts, where the ''gerrymander'' had its infamous beginning in 1812. The newly devised Fourth District, in which both liberal Democratic US Rep. Barney Frank and conservative Republican US Rep. Margaret M. Heckler reside, stretches its irregular way from just west of Boston to the Rhode Island border, to the apparent political advantage of the GOP congresswoman.
Besides the 22 states that have redistricted on the basis of the 1980 federal census, the project is well underway in several of the others, although further action until early January is unlikely since lawmakers are in recess.
Especially heated is the push in New Jersey where Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne is to be replaced in mid-January by Republican Thomas Kean. The Democratic-controlled Garden State Legislature is trying to agree on a plan to protect their party's eight incumbent congressmen when the New Jersey delegation to the House shrinks from 15 to 14 in 1983.
Besides New Jersey, states losing congressional seats are New York, down 5 to 34; Pennsylvania, down 2 to 23; Ohio, down 2 to 21; Michigan, down 1 to 18; and Missouri, down 1 to 9. Three of the other losers - Illinois, Indiana, and Massachusetts - have done their redistricting, although in the case of Illinois it had to be handled by a court. South Dakota, also loses a seat but since henceforth it will have but one US House seat, no realigment is needed.