Opinion

With the REDMAP redistricting plan, Robin Hayes gamed the system within its rules

North Carolina Republican chairman Robin Hayes has been indicted for allegedly trying to funnel bribe money to the re-election campaign of the state’s insurance commissioner.
North Carolina Republican chairman Robin Hayes has been indicted for allegedly trying to funnel bribe money to the re-election campaign of the state’s insurance commissioner. AP

The indictment of Robin Hayes, the former Republican congressman and state party chairman, earlier this month, somehow managed to magnify North Carolina’s political chaos. That’s not easy, against a backdrop of a still-undecided congressional race loaded with fraud and given that partisans have been at each others’ throats here for much of the decade.

Hayes faces multiple counts of bribery, wire fraud, and making false statements. It’s alleged that Hayes and wealthy donor Greg Lindberg tried to disguise a bribe to the state insurance commissioner by masking it via large campaign contributions. Hayes has denied the charges and maintained his innocence.

While Republicans brace for a trial that could last through the party’s national convention in Charlotte next summer, it’s worth looking back on the largely untold role that Hayes played in orchestrating the GOP’s advantages in Raleigh and in the state’s Congressional delegation since 2010.

The gerrymanders that Hayes made possible have been ruled unconstitutional on both racial and partisan grounds. They have allowed Republicans to hold both chambers of the state’s legislature with fewer votes. And they’ve led to the stunning current situation, nine years into the redistricting cycle, in which a closely divided state is represented in Washington by a lopsided GOP delegation from unconstitutional districts.

Hayes was among the architects of the Republican State Leadership Committee’s successful national redistricting strategy known as REDMAP, short for the Redistricting Majority Project. Indeed, he was one of the very first Republicans to understand how crucial the 2010 elections would be in determining control of Congress and state legislatures for the next decade. Hayes, alongside former Tennessee senator Bill Brock and former RNC chairman Mike Duncan, formed one of the earliest GOP redistricting operations, the American Majority Project, and then joined forces with REDMAP, which was led by another former RNC chairman, Ed Gillespie.

Hayes and the other Republicans had a crucial insight that has remade American politics: While Democrats won the White House and even a supermajority in the U.S. Senate in the historic 2008 elections, 2010 could be far more consequential. That’s because 2010 was a census year, and following the census, state legislatures take the lead in redrawing their own districts as well as Congress to account for population shifts.

“How do we create 20-25 new Republican Congressional districts over the next five cycles and solidify a Republican Congressional majority?” posed the lead slide in a secret REDMAP PowerPoint that I obtained. “Control the redistricting process,” by winning 107 key state legislative races in 16 states.

The Republican strategy was elegant, effective, and more than a little diabolical: Focus intently on taking control of tightly contested state legislative chambers in swing states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and, yes, North Carolina. Invest tens of millions of dollars in those sleepy, local state house and senate races -- most of it in the last six weeks of the campaign, so shocked Democratic incumbents would have no means to respond. And then control every seat at the table when it comes time to draw the new lines, locking Democrats out of the process entirely.

It helped when Democrats offered no resistance on redistricting at all, snoozing through an all-important election, convinced that the 2008 election proved that changing American demographics would make them a majority party for a generation. Thanks to Hayes’s efforts, it didn’t exactly turn out that way. Republicans captured both chambers in those six key swing states, haven’t lost any of the 12 bodies since, and drew themselves Congressional edges of 10-3 in North Carolina and 12-4 in Ohio -- and haven’t lost any of those seats yet, either.

Hayes played an especially important role in raising the more than $1 million that helped secure the North Carolina chambers. In June 2010, the REDMAP road show roared through the South as Gillespie and other strategists presented the PowerPoint to conservative donors.

“I’m writing you today about state legislators and the impact they will have, not only here in North Carolina, but nationwide on the 2011 redistricting process,” Hayes wrote, in a never-before-published invitation to a Charlotte breakfast briefing at the Levine Museum of the New South with Gillespie, former congressman Tom Reynolds, and N.C. politicians Thom Tillis, Phil Berger and Bob Rucho. “This redistricting effort is crucial,” Hayes wrote, listing his office phone number and personal email for invitees to reach out with questions.

When the breakfast concluded, Hayes himself flew the RSLC team from the Concord Regional Airport to Raleigh, where Art Pope hosted a soup and salad buffet in the Carolina Country Club’s Bloomsbury Room. These details come from a previously unpublished “REDMAP travel schedule” for June 23. In the invitation that Pope sent potential donors, also previously unpublished, he wrote that “What happens in state legislative races in 2010 will directly shape the political landscape in Washington for the net 10 years,” and charged that North Carolina Democrats had “gerrymandered Congressional and legislative districts to rig the election results so that the Democrats won the majority of seats, even when the majority of the people voted Republican. We cannot stand by and let this happen again in 2011, in North Carolina nor the rest of the country.”

As Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money” details, the RSLC and Real Jobs NC, a group within Pope’s network, zeroed in on 22 Democratic legislators to win the two chambers, and won 18 of those races. The RSLC then helped provide and fun mapping expertise to the states via master GOP line drawer Thomas Hofeller.

The bribery charges Hayes faces are serious -- but also an example of how sometimes the things that damage democracy the most aren’t illicit scandals, but rather the political chicanery that the system allows.

David Daley is the author of the national bestseller “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count” and the forthcoming “Unrigged: How Americans Fought Back, Slayed the Gerrymander and Reinvented Democracy”

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