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[00:00:01]

Welcome to politics. I'm Ronstadt's low. In last week's Roundup, we table the discussion about the country's upcoming redistricting process because it really calls for a deep dove of its own. And so that's what we're going to do on this episode. In fact, we're going to spend several episodes on this topic as part of our Drawing Democracy series.

[00:00:25]

If we think of elections as when voters choose their political leaders, then we should think about redistricting as when and how that political voting power gets distributed and adjusted every 10 years. This process has far higher stakes than we often think about, and it can potentially lead to outcomes that are antithetical to our democratic values. So this whole process requires attention and diligence and scrutiny from all of us.

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I want to take a quick step back and say that most of this conversation on redistricting will be focused through the lens of how it relates to the U.S. House of Representatives and the impact that it will have on our national political picture. But I want you to keep in mind that this same process will play out in parallel for state legislative districts, too. And that, in turn, will have a hand in so much of what we talk about on political ads from election and voting laws to our extreme level of polarization.

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So if you've ever looked up your own congressional district, which I hope you all have done, at some point you may have discovered you've been drawn into a seemingly nonsensical shape resembling a Rorschach test, possibly grouping you in with voters from several counties away, sometimes hundreds of miles away. And at the same time, the neighborhood over from you or perhaps even your next door neighbor could be drawn into an entirely separate district. So we're going to spend a lot of time talking about this process over the next few weeks and we'll get into the legal aspects of it and some of the specific ways states create maps.

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But I want to start with a baseline understanding of the whole process, because it does get pretty complicated. And I think I may have mentioned this before, but I actually spearheaded the redistricting efforts for Republicans back when I was a Republican during the process in 2010 after the last census. So in this episode, we're talking about why this process happens, what we need to pay attention to as it unfolds, and how decisions made by the previous administration regarding last year's census will have ramifications across the country for the next decade.

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So joining us today on what is sure to be the nerdiest episode we have ever done is our good friend, Mike Madrid. Mike is a political strategist, an expert in demographics and Latino politics, and a former political director of the California Republican Party. Mike, it's always great to have you on any conversation, but this one in particular is going to be a lot of fun.

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I I'm honored to be on the nerdiest of nerd shows. I'm not gonna take that as a compliment. Well, we'll see how our listeners, our listeners think about this one. I'm really curious if they're if they're here for it. All right. Look, so to kick things off, I'll dig into the census in a minute, but why don't you sort of set the table with a thirty thousand foot overview of why this matters and why everyone should be paying attention to it right now?

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So back at the founding, starting from the very beginning, literally written into our framing documents, the the founders outlined a process for how this democracy would actually work kind of numerically. And again, we have to remember that this had never been done before. Right. There was no legislatures to kind of cribbed from there was no democracy in the modern world that we could actually look to. And so what they realized was, OK, there's going to have to be an outline delineated process at a very granular level that really outlines how the nuts and bolts of this legislature, which take this genius creation was actually going to work.

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And what they came up with was there would be a representative, remember a representative democracy. People would decide who would decide for them. They would elect somebody to go to Washington to make these decisions. And the question became, how many people does this one decider or one representative actually represent? And so that number has changed somewhat over time. It's been static right now for, I think, about 50 or 60 years now. So I don't have that exact date.

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But what we do is we go through really two processes. There's the apportionment process and then there's the districting process, the redistricting process and apportionment requires that we have a census. Again, the census is not something we decided to do in the last few years. It's literally in our in our constitutions and our framework that we are required as a federal government to count our people. And once we count, all of our people do our level best to do the count the number of people living in the country.

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At the same time, we then apportion a certain number of representatives to each state based off of that formula. So apportionment itself actually begins with the US Census, and then it ends when when the apportionment process ends. Basically, it says you're going to have five seats, you're going to have 10 seats, you're going to have 50 seats. We then leave it up to the states to determine how those districts will be drawn for after the apportionment process, after we apportion how many states representatives will represent each state, does that help?

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It's a perfect setup. So essentially, the census is what tells each state how much say they get to have in deciding federal matters. Essentially, that is distributing power. Right? If that's exactly what it is, it's distributing the number of seats in the legislature. Remember the House of Representatives. And again, there's a reason why they called the House of Representatives the representing the voters in this construct. We also have to remember that the Senate was set up in many ways as a check against this.

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When we founded the founding, we did not elect senators. Senators were picked by the legislature of each state to see who would be the governor. So and that was another filter to protect us from mob rule. Right. The founders were really hyper worried about mobs taking over, but the House of Representatives is in its purest form is exactly what you just said. It's how power is literally distributed based off of population.

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So we're going to walk our listeners through this piece by piece and so that so that they have an opportunity to really grab hold of the process, starting with its foundation. So, Mike, as you mentioned, everyone across the country should have responded to the census with their households demographic information. That process is now complete. The data gathered during the census is critical for a number of government government functions. In fact, as you described, it's enumerated in the Constitution, the power and obligation of the federal government to carry out the census every 10 years.

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And one of the outputs of the census every year is the number of people that live in the most granular pieces of geography that you could possibly imagine. And those start with census blocks and census blocks are literally the building blocks of districts. And the census when they're going door to door and they're counting people, what they're ultimately doing is creating a data set of geographic shapes, geospatial units of measurement that are assigned a value. And that value is the number of people that they counted in that tiny little shape.

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And the smallest unit of measurement is a census block. And those census blocks are what ultimately get used when you are drawing districts at the federal level. So just so everyone understands that there are multiple there's a hierarchy to these geospatial units of measurement, the smallest as a block. And then from there up, you have a group of blocks called a block group. Then you have a census tract and then you have a place and then you have a minor civil division and it goes on up from there.

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But the one that you really should know is a census. Because that likely includes anywhere from, you know, zero to a couple of thousand people, it's likely just your neighborhood, maybe even your cul de sac, and that is the unit of measurement that ultimately whoever the authority is in your state is going to use to draw districts and put you into one of those districts. So, Mike, we know how important it is to have an accurate count in the census for all kinds of reasons, not just elections.

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But can you talk about the ways the Trump administration attempted to alter the process in twenty twenty and why that mattered so much? What were they trying to do and why were they doing it then looking looking ahead to to the redistricting process and talking to anyone?

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Well, one of the really fascinating things, as somebody who just love demography and politics is it's like every 10 years when we get census results back, it gives us a really in depth picture down to the very granular level of who we are as a people. And getting more and more data for somebody like me is obviously extremely important. And people who love this process want to get as much information and as robust a data set as they possibly can, because we start to see how America is changing, not just the racial complexity, which is really fascinating at this in our lifetimes as Americans and this generation, that's probably the most explosive change that we are seeing and it's unlike any generation of Americans before.

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So watching every 10 year cycle, when these new counts come in to see just how rapid these demographic changes are has been quite fascinating. But we also learn a whole lot of other things, everything from like people when people get married, how many divorces they have, single family households, multifamily households and all of these. These are broken down by track. So give us a really, again, a very robust look. What the Trump administration was trying to do is really limit a lot of some of this data data collection.

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Most specifically, what it was trying to do was put a citizenship question on the on the census questionnaire. And we all know that there was a very strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the administration and the president himself. And part of this I think some of the questions were, why would they do this? Why would the president engage in this behavior? And there's a number of answers. I think the first was they didn't want to have people that were not citizens represented in the census counts to give some of these states, most notably blue states like California and New York, a higher account number, higher representation, basically arguing that if they're not citizens, they should not be counted.

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That's a dramatic change from anything any administration had ever done before. That's never been delineated in the census. What we're trying to find out is who is in this country. We're not we don't we make no judgment as to whether you're a citizen or a noncitizen or a homeless or not. If you don't have an address, we don't look for these things. We're literally looking to see who is here as a general sense of who we are. So so the most significant was and it also it also put a chilling effect on the count for community, which is very hard to count anyway.

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That's right. There's a general, broad distrust of government. And to start asking the citizenship question, when the federal government was so diligent on cracking down on people, the response rates were not probably as accurate as they otherwise would be or should be. And so you started to see a change in some of the responses, and we won't know until those numbers are out. But I think it's highly unlikely that we've got an accurate count of the Latino community, specifically the immigrant community generally.

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And it's all a function of the Trump administration consciously doing this. Yes. And we're going to get into why that matters so much from a legal perspective and as it relates to the process of drawing maps in a future episode about about this topic, but know that it could have enormous consequences if we did not get an accurate count, particularly of undocumented people. So we talked about reapportionment, which is essentially distributing power to the states based on how many people are there and how much they they get to have in federal affairs.

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So I also want to remind our listeners of the connection between a given state's number of seats in the US House of Representatives and the representation in the Electoral College. So the Electoral College count for any given state, the number of votes that were awarded to each presidential candidate this last go around is equal to the number of House districts they have. So how many how many seats they are apportioned in the House of Representatives plus two, which is their Senate delegation.

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So I want to get into which states are the likely winners and losers of reapportionment. This go around like and and then also once we've established that and I want you to talk about the demographic trends that we've been talking about this podcast for a while and how those have impacted reapportioned. Let's go around and then we should talk about why that's going to matter for future presidential races so we don't have the official 20 20 census yet, but we do have the estimates released by the bureau last year.

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And usually they're they're pretty they're pretty accurate. So we can predict which states will gain and lose congressional districts. And according to an analysis by Election Data Services, seven states in the Sunbelt and Mountain West are likely to gain at least one seat, while 10, mostly in the Midwest and the Northeast, are likely to lose at least one. So in all, about 10 or 11 districts are expected to swap hands. I would love for you to put that into perspective, given the new Southern strategy that we employed in twenty twenty and essentially what that means for for the changing electoral proportion of power regionally in the United States.

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So this is a very significant shift, again, in our governance process, and it's really going to define how our politics are practiced for at least the next decade, potentially longer. And the reason is because it does signify a broader demographic change that is altering the United States of America. What is happening functionally is people are moving or having more children and are increasingly of a younger age in the Sunbelt states. This, to your point, was where we focused like a laser beam with the Lincoln projects work in the targeting there, primarily because what we were seeing was a new economy, workers moving into some of these Sunbelt states and where the new economy workers were not.

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We also saw a larger sixty five plus older senior citizens because of weather and weather related reasons. But for the purposes of the political changes, I think it's really important to focus on kind of the economic drivers that are compelling people to move to the Sunbelt states. And as we've discussed on previous episodes, if you look at some of these dynamic metropolitan areas in places like Phenix, Maricopa County, Austin, Texas, Houston, you're hearing a lot about these cities, Atlanta, Georgia, the suburbs around Atlanta, even in Raleigh, North Carolina, on this this swath of Sunbelt states is building and creating a dynamic economy that is attracting workers, which means families, which means population growth.

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And you're also starting to see a younger skew while it's also an older skew. At the same time, younger people having families, older people who are retiring to that area. At the same time, when you go north, the economies that are not doing well, the old economies, manufacturing base, coal and old energy companies, the Great Lakes, the Midwest, some of the Rust Belt states are losing population. And they have been for some time now, really for about three decades.

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If you really look at when these economies began to collapse, it really starts around the mid 1980s, late 1980s, early 1990s, and it has never recovered. These are losing seats and they're moving south with the population. It's also, I think one of the ironic things about politics is as the South becomes more centrist or progressive and less conservative, these older Rust Belt Midwest states are actually getting more conservative and moving more towards the Republican column and have been for about the last four to six election cycles.

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I would be remiss to mention if I didn't mention one other peculiar dynamic, and that is California, which is not that interesting in terms of electoral politics, because it's not a battleground state. But for the first time in one hundred and fifty years, the first time in California's history, the state is actually going to lose representation. It will lose one seat. And to bring this up for a very specific reason, America has always been about the West.

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It's always been about the frontier. It's always been about where it is going. And through the better part of our entire history, California has seen a growing population as people moved into the West to keep pushing the boundaries of our American identity. It does say something rather profound when our frontier has now started to push back inwards and it's losing population as people begin to leave California. I think maybe it's a philosophical or maybe more abstract question, but I think it also is going to start saying something about this country when when the push for a frontier is no longer the defining characteristic of our growing population.

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That is a really good point and very interesting to watch. Maybe we should do a separate talk about California specifically at some point, but how much do you think these changes in the electoral votes impact the Electoral College? And specifically, how are they going to shape the way presidential campaigns designed their strategies to to move and to. Persuade and mobilize voters. That's another great question, and I think the best way to look at it is in twenty twenty. When you and I were really involved in this last presidential campaign, one of the things we continually talked about was that the old map no longer work.

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That didn't make sense. There are other states coming into play, states like Arizona and Georgia for Joe Biden, while states like Iowa, for example, had become much more conservative than it had in previous years. And even states like New Hampshire and even Maine were kind of actually looking more Republican than they had been in the past 20 years. They were kind of swinging states, but moving in a more rightward trajectory. The reason why is because, again, the demographics, a lot of non college educated white voters that really made up the Trump base are dramatically overrepresented in these states, these Rust Belt, Midwest, Great Lakes states.

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And this demographic is the fastest shrinking demographic in the country. It's also becoming more regionally isolated in these battleground states. This is significant because the road map for Republicans is small and it's getting smaller. It really exists in monolithic states that are where there's very little diversity, where the populations are shrinking and these older economies. And until there are some sort of expansion or redefinition of what constitutes the Republican base, we're going to start to see that shift concentrates downwards more and more.

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It is, I think, fascinating to see the South Line. And again, you and I were very involved in this from a data standpoint, what we articulated and called the new Southern Strategy. Where do you see growing populations where you see large, robust cities that are dynamic and growing, where you see diversity, you see the Democratic Party taking a very strong foothold and you see the Republican Party retreating into other areas of the country where these demographics aren't as pronounced.

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So it's really a demographic cul de sac that the Republican Party is drawing itself into. And there are fewer and fewer states that meet the criteria to get to 270 electoral votes. And I think that you're going to see that on full display when these numbers do come out is the old road map to 270, which candidly was not a very good road map for Republicans in the last eight election cycles, is going to get even more and more difficult. Now, the downside to that, if you're if you're if you're an observer of democracy in politics, as we are, if you're going to start seeing a lot more shenanigans being pulled, because if you're not going to compete in the marketplace of ideas, if you're not trying to expand your coalition, the only possible way is to mess with the infrastructure of what is outlined in the Constitution under redistricting in order to secure maintain political power.

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OK, so you just touched on, I think, something that many of our listeners already know instinctively. They know that Republicans are engaging in lots of fakery regarding voter suppression and disenfranchisement, intimidation. We know that. We've been through that. We just went through it in 20, 20. But we're what we're talking about right now is the mathematical fact that they have no other option. They cannot engage in the marketplace of ideas. And so absent a compelling public argument to join their party, to join their causes.

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But for their candidates, there's it's almost it's similar it's metaphorically similar to what we just saw play out in the Senate with Trump's impeachment proceedings. Right. There was no defense on the substance. There was a procedural abandonment of their oaths of office. Right. That's what they're relegated to, to procedure. And what we're going to see now, would you which you just alluded to is is more procedural manipulation in order to hang on to relevance and power artificially going forward.

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And this is this is directly related to what I mentioned earlier, the Voting Rights Act. And we're going to get into that in a future episode to talk about exactly how they do that and exactly what what's going on right now. But but this is a good segue to the disproportionality. So so you were talking about the presidential campaigns, right? I want to now take the same logic and let's apply it to control of power in the House of Representatives itself.

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Right. So can you talk a little bit about disproportionality vis a vis gerrymandering? And we know our listeners, you need two hundred eighteen out of four hundred and thirty five voting House seats to win a majority in the House. The Democratic caucus right now, which is in control, is only in control by three votes. They have two hundred and twenty one seats. And while we don't know what the maps are going to look like yet, they still have to be drawn.

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There is a very significant chance the Republicans are going to manipulate those maps in such a way that they could regain. Control of the House in twenty twenty two, so all of that is over to you, Mike, because disproportionality I think is the thing that makes people feel like the system is not responsive to the inputs of its primary constituents, which essentially are its constituents, the people, the voters. Right. So how should we be thinking about how should the listeners be thinking about disproportionality because of gerrymandering?

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So you said a couple of really important things, and then I know we're going to explore most of them to the great extent that we can. As I mentioned just a few moments ago, there is going to be a shift to states with growing populations, which tend to be in the Sunbelt. There are four hundred and thirty five seats. That's the that's the slices of pie that we put into each different state. And so you will see Sunbelt states picking up more seats while there will be fewer pieces of those pies in Rust Belt and in Great Lakes and Midwestern states.

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Now, you said something else that was really profound in your listeners and really need to kind of focus in on this. You mentioned that Republicans could likely be counted on to kind of quote unquote, influence those are my quotes, not yours inappropriately, the amount of the way the lines are drawn. How is that? The answer is because in almost every state, the redistricting process is managed by the state legislatures. There are some states where there are independent redistricting commissions, for example, but by and large, about 90 percent of the states actually have the maps drawn by the politicians themselves, adopted by the politicians themselves, signed into to act by governor and for the next 10 years.

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That's the way this works. There are a wide number of state legislatures that are Republican dominated. And so that's to your point. That's how Republicans do it. It's not just that they're smart or crafty or or or more disingenuous, although they may be the reason why they're going to have a disproportionate amount of influence is just proportionality. That you're talking about is because Republicans control a significant number of the legislatures in some of these states where there's going to be redraws and then you start to get into what we call communities of interest, which is something that I think you're probably a real expert on when we start to actually draw the lines based off of those those little Lego blocks of centrist census tract and centrist block numbers that you were talking about to actually build the maps, there are something there's a term called a community of interest.

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Where we try to do is find people as closely associated with others. Having a common interest could be race based, could be ethnicity, could be a whole host of criteria in order to start moving these lines around to give us communities of interest so that that these quote unquote voices people have specific backgrounds, for example, actually have some representation in our federal government. They actually have a voice. Yeah, you're exactly right.

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I think I want to save that for a future episode because it gets really wonky and there's a lot to there's a lot to explain there. But the most important thing is that Republicans control these state legislatures and the Constitution delegates absolute authority essentially to the legislatures to or to the states to redraw these districts and the states in turn via their own constitutions, delegate authority to their state legislatures that when the last go around in 2010, that was the vast majority of states.

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And since then, over the last decade, there have been, as you mentioned, several states who have created redistricting commissions of varying independence. And we should talk about that for just a quick moment, because I'm interested in your take on these, because I've done some work in the reform space. And and a lot of the a lot of the reformers like to tout the advantages of independent redistricting commissions as sort of being a cleaner, more honest way of drawing districts.

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But having been through the process, having been behind the curtain, it seems to me that redistricting commissions, independent redistricting commissions, especially ones where you have a Republican, a Democrat and an independent who then get who get assigned to go draw a set of maps.

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All that really does is takes the same kind of deal making, horse trading, backroom deals that typically play out in legislatures and among leadership caucuses. And it it shrinks the number of people who actually get to participate in it. And it puts it into a black box so that you can't see what's happening.

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So for me, independent redistricting commissions are really not all that they're cracked up to be. And they should not be considered the end all be all in terms of ending gerrymandering, whether it's. Political gerrymandering or racial gerrymandering? So I'm just I'm interested in how you think about it now, obviously, admittedly don't have a perfect solution to these problems. We'll talk about some some potential remedies in a future episode, because I have some ideas there, but I just think they've gotten way too lofty reviews for what exactly they they do.

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And I'm curious about how you think about them, especially since California, they were one of the first to implement a redistricting commission.

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Yeah, I think I agree with you on the whole notion of an independent redistricting commission. The way it's done in California is there's literally an applicant pool, almost like a jury. But if you're interested in serving on the redistricting commission, you apply. They do their level best to kind of oversee the staff does oversee that. There are representation of women, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, you name it, all the criteria to give it as much of a representative sample as you possibly can on, I think, a 14 member commission that oversees the redrawing of these lines.

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But you are absolutely correct. What you really are essentially doing is taking away the horse trading that happens in the legislative process and handing it over to a quote unquote, citizen's commission. There's no other way to come up with these lines other than to say that I think this should be this line should be here. This community needs to be represented here. That needs to be there. I suppose the difference is where the politicians are involved. They invariably are looking out for their own personal self-interest, then their party's self-interest and then other considerations come up.

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What this does is it just changes that calculation, but it still has the bias of every human being in it who's bringing what they believe their interests to be. And even they may view themselves as, for example, a Hispanic member on the commission that they need to create an advocate for as many Hispanic seats as possible. And that creates, again, another horse trading process to get to where they need to to to get to. It's not unlike run a lot of government reforms, campaign finance reform, for example, where they'll think, oh, wait, this is if we just fix it this way, what we oftentimes end up doing is creating other complications on the road to trying to fix things.

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Normally, the more transparent the process is, the better off it is, regardless of who is overseeing it. So I think that's one of the focuses that that independent redistricting commissions have missed. Unfortunately, simply by taking this out of the hands of politicians doesn't change the process because it's an ugly process. And it's just it's just one that we have to go through. It's just kind of the old sausage reference. People want to see the sausage being made, but watching it being made is literally the best way to make sure that no shenanigans or fewer shenanigans happen.

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That's exactly right. And I think you're you're right in that one of the upsides is that it takes what is essentially a tug of war. It's a redistricting is always and always will be an inherently partizan process. But I think I think you're right.

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One of the selling points of an independent commission is that you well, at least in California's case, where you have where you have a very diverse set of 14 people, some states only have three people on the commission. And it's really just run along party lines. You have one, two, three. That's it. Right. But but but in the best forms, you can essentially take what is a two way tug of war and create a 14 day tug of war, which gives you a more equitable at least set of set of views.

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Right. Right. All right. So, Mike, I know we've got a lot more to cover on this topic in upcoming episodes, but we're going to take it one piece at a time. So for now, one last question to wrap a bow on this for our listeners, what can and should we as individuals be doing during this process? How can citizens engage right now?

[00:32:16]

That's a great question.

[00:32:18]

This process, while very mundane and very, very dense, a lot of vegetables and she said, I'm still going to use is actually it's actually a very good opportunity to start working with your state representatives on what this process is and what this what this process means. If you're in a state and this is the first thing you should do is find out if your lines are drawn by your state legislature or by an independent district redistricting commission. Once you understand that most independent district redistricting commissions have very robust public input through their processes, not all, but most.

[00:32:56]

And that's probably the best way that you can begin to to do that. The second is, if you are interested in this process and are focusing on it and your process is overseen by the state legislature, contacting your legislature, your representative in your state house, at your state assembly or your state Senate dollar to a donut. These people are going to be very interested in having you engage and learn the process. Most legislators don't understand. And how arcane this is, because it's a once in a decade process and there are in every state, no matter how big, there's really just a small handful of people that are true experts at this, like literally five or six people in most states.

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And the reason why they become experts is once you go through the process, once you don't see it again for 10 years, and if those people are still involved, they are the natural go to for the next time and they usually replace themselves with one or another expert. And so it's a very, very limited number of people who are actually drawing the maps, identifying communities of interest and figuring out how these puzzle pieces will go together. So the long way of saying, Ron, this is actually a pretty open process until the last phase, which is when all the horse trading happens.

[00:34:10]

But to learn how the meat and potatoes of all of this is done actually can be done through your legislators office. You just got to kind of reach out and ask and they'll plug you into the right place to learn. Mike, a tremendous thank you for joining me for this nerdy deep dove. There's more to come. And thank you to everyone at home for listening. Like I said at the beginning of the episode, we're going to give this topic the attention it deserves because it is so important to the balance of power and our politics for the next 10 years.

[00:34:41]

In our next episode on redistricting, we're going to really dig into gerrymandering and how it happens, how Republicans have used a key piece of civil rights legislation to limit the representation of minority communities in Congress and the impact of a pair of landmark Supreme Court cases on the federal government's ability to protect voting rights and curb gerrymandering. If you have any questions or advice for us, we have a new email address and you can reach us at a podcast at political and economic.

[00:35:11]

If you enjoy the show and you find this work meaningful, you can also help us by reading and reviewing the show wherever you get your podcasts and by sharing this episode with anyone you think may find it interesting and make sure you're following us on Twitter at Political Jeopardy. I'm Ron Suslow. I'll see you in the next episode.