The Private Files Of Thomas Hofeller, GOP Redistricting Operative, Are Now Public

Jan 6, 2020
Originally published on January 6, 2020 6:53 pm

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The estranged daughter of a deceased Republican operative has made his private files public, and these files could hold clues to one of the most divisive issues in American politics - gerrymandering. They might even prompt legal battles in states across the country. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang joins us to explain the story of this family, their files and the possible fallout.

Hi, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: OK. Explain who this Republican strategist is and who his daughter is.

WANG: This is Thomas Hofeller, a mastermind for the Republican National Committee. He was working behind the scenes for decades before he died, using census data to draw political maps of voting districts around the country. And his name made national headlines last year. This is during the lawsuits over this citizenship question that the Trump administration tried and failed to get on the 2020 census. During those lawsuits, lawyers for the question's challengers - they uncovered an unpublished study written by Thomas Hofeller that concluded that adding a citizenship question to census forms would be, quote, "advantageous" to Republicans and non-Hispanic white people when voting districts are redrawn.

And the reason that study came to light was because of Thomas Hofeller's daughter Stephanie Hofeller. She happened to find her father's obituary in 2018. She had not spoken with him for more than four years at that point after a bitter family dispute. She reconnected with her mother after his death and found in his room four external hard drives and a clear plastic bag with 18 USB thumb drives. And Stephanie says her mother encouraged her to take them, and under a court order last year, Stephanie turned them over to attorneys involved in a redistricting lawsuit in North Carolina. But before she did, she made copies of some of those files for herself.

SHAPIRO: OK, you've got four hard drives and 18 USB thumb drives with this man's records. What's on them?

WANG: A lot of stuff. Stephanie Hofeller previously gave a copy to NPR, and she says to other news organizations, I've taken a look - lots of family photos and other personal items, but also maps and spreadsheets from Thomas Hofeller's work for Republicans. And they show his reach was really wide - work in Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia, as well as counties in New York and Texas. And we should note that for the North Carolina case, Republican state lawmakers tried to keep these documents sealed. And Hofeller's former business partner Dale Oldham is arguing that some of these files contain trade secrets.

SHAPIRO: What did Stephanie Hofeller say about why she is releasing these files?

WANG: One reason she told me is to preserve, she says, a historical record about her father. This is someone, she said, who has had a major influence in the political system without many people noticing. And he worked during his life to ensure that no matter how people voted, gerrymandering would ensure Republicans would win elections. Let's listen to what Stephanie Hofeller said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEPHANIE HOFELLER: These are matters that concern the people and their franchise and their access to resources, and I won't be satisfied that we the people have found everything until we the people have had a look at it.

WANG: Stephanie Hofeller also said that she's sharing these copies because attorneys for the Republican state lawmakers in North Carolina were calling for some of the files to be destroyed.

SHAPIRO: Just in our last minute, now that the files are public, what could the impact be?

WANG: Well, we've already seen a couple of major legal battles upended by the release of files, including the citizenship question lawsuits, as well as the North Carolina redistricting case, where state court threw out political maps. The question now is, are these additional files - could they end up as evidence in other redistricting lawsuits in other parts of the country?

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

Thank you very much.

WANG: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAIA'S "AFTERWARDS @ THE BAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.