Redistricting Q&A: John Ryder
Welcome back to Hotline On Call's Redistricting Q&A feature, where we sit down with some of the biggest players in the map-drawing process. Last week, we featured Bill Burke, the executive director of the Foundation for the Future - a go-to 527 group for Democrats across the country.
We now turn to John Ryder, a member of the Republican National Committee from Tennessee. Ryder is currently the chairman of the RNC's Redistricting Committee and has a long pedigree in the map drawing process. He has handled redistricting litigation for the Tennessee GOP since 1976 and has tried numerous court cases on the issue around the country. He also worked on the RNC's Redistricting Committee following the 2000 census as well.
In our chat, we talk about where his efforts at the RNC currently stand and how it might change under the new leadership of Chairman Reince Priebus. We also discussed how the RNC's more than $20 million in debt could affect the GOP's redistricting effort and the need for a outside group to form to help raise money.
The Hotline: Why don't we start with what your official capacity within the party is, and what your responsibilities are?
John Ryder: Well, one of the first things that Michael Steele did when he became chairman was create a redistricting committee at the RNC and I was named as chairman. The purpose of the committee was to assemble resources at the RNC to assist state parties and Republican legislators in getting ready for the redistricting process. That's what we've done over the past two years, and that involved assembling legal materials, technical data, and population information.
Hotline: So you guys started that in 2009?
JR: That's correct, yes.
Hotline: So how big is the budget and the staff within the RNC?
JR: Big enough to get the job done.
Hotline: Alright. But doesn't most of the redistricting organizing take place outside the RNC anyway, because of restrictions on the RNC raising hard money?
JR: Since the last redistricting cycle we've had the McCain-Feingold regulations, and that's meant that soft money is not available to the national committees to fund the redistricting effort. So, since hard dollars being harder to raise, the tendency has been to push the more expensive elements into outside groups.
Hotline: Is that what you're going to transition to, or do you envision your committee working with a group that's outside the RNC?
JR: The committee will continue to do those functions that can be done economically with hard money dollars, but there will be a...I wouldn't call it a transition, but there will be an outside effort, or multiple outside efforts, to provide the funding for the elements of the redistricting process that are prohibitively expensive.
Hotline: Where does your committee at the RNC stand now with new Chairman Reince Priebus?
JR: Of course we've got a brand-new chairman, and he's got a transition team that's reviewing this. And we're having discussions now about what services we want to deliver for the RNC, and what services can properly be delivered from an outside group.
You know, it's a question of efficiency and fundraising -- where's the best place to park the operation? So right now I'd say all options are on the table, and it's part of Chairman Priebus' fundraising discussion to figure out how best to serve the RNC's constituency.
The chairman's first priority, and rightly so, is eliminating the deficit and restoring fiscal responsibility to the RNC. And he's undertaken a number of steps, but that also involves putting a pretty sharp pencil to the budget. So that's the challenge; there are things that we have to do in terms of redistricting, and making sure we have the money to do them.
Hotline: What parts of the process are too expensive for the RNC to take sole responsibility for?
JR: The expensive parts are assembling the data and supporting litigation. Those are the expensive components. Providing legal resources, training and coordination -- that's pretty much what we did in 2009 and 2010. That culminated in a major conference that we had last April, which provided both legal training, some technical training for state parties and their personnel.
Hotline: It sounds like the need for an outside group is growing.
JR: I think that's true, yes. It's much more important now than it was previously. And I think the chairman is committed to making sure that we have a sound redistricting effort; we've just got to figure out the best way to pay for it, given the particular budgetary constraints that he faces.
Hotline: Isn't it true, though, that because Republicans will be drawing the maps in a lot of states, it would actually be less expensive because defending a map ends up costing less than challenging one.
JR: That's right. It's more expensive to challenge than it is to defend. But it still costs money to assemble the data, and there are litigation support expenses that still arise, even when you're defending.
Previous Redistricting Q&As:
Foundation for the Future Executive Director Bill Burke
Former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds (R)
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Executive Director Arturo Vargas
Texas Democratic strategist Matt Angle
California Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson
Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland