By Wendy Underhill
With a curmudgeonly nature leavened by a twinkle in his eye, Tom Hofeller was one of the nation’s best brains when it came to thinking spatially and legally. In other words, he was a redistricter par excellence.
Hofeller died Aug. 16 from cancer. See Reid Wilson’s obituary in The Hill, calling Hofeller a “pioneer of modern redistricting.”
Hofeller came to darned near every NCSL Summit, Forum and redistricting seminar over the last three decades. He was often on the agenda, too, sharing his secrets with presentations such as “What I’ve Learned About Redistricting (The Hard Way).” (Email me at the address below if you’d like a copy of that one.)
Tim Storey, NCSL's director of state services and expert on redistricting, knew Hofeller well. He told The Hill that Hofeller was the kind of politico who would "fight with Dems during work hours, but then clock out and go enjoy telling war stories together over drinks.”
Tim was so right about that! I had the pleasure of dining with Hofeller, his wife Kathleen, and a dozen or so other redistricters of both political stripes at NCSL’s Forum in San Diego last year. In the accompanying photo, Hofeller is on the left, with Jeff Wice, NCSL’s Democratic co-chair of the Redistricting and Elections Standing Committee, right next to him. Jeff’s wife, Ellen Vollinger, is next to him, with Clark Bensen, the GOP’s data guru, next to her. Jeff said to me at the time, “Take a picture. You won’t see a bipartisan group like this again.”
When the news of Hofeller’s passing was shared on NCSL’s redistricting listserv, several people added their own experiences:
Clark Bensen: “The post-2020 Census would have been his sixth cycle, having started in California after the 1970 census (of course, with crayons). Alas, we will not have Tom’s good humor and erudite observations about the reality of the situation before us this time. He will be missed.”
Adam Kincaid, founder of Cornerstone Solutions, formerly of the Republican National Committee: "Tom drew maps as part of his profession, but in truth his greatest role was as a teacher. He taught colleagues, he taught legislators, and sometimes taught judges. And he did so earnestly, combining his expertise, his wisdom, and his wit. Like many who knew and worked with him, I was lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from him and will miss him."
Terri Lowenthal, consultant on all things Census: “Tom and I were on opposite sides of many a census debate, but I, too, considered him a friend and was honored to help him get up-to-speed on the issues when he became staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee after my tenure. May his memory be a blessing.”
Jeff Wice: “I knew Tom from my earliest days working in redistricting. Although we represented different political parties and interests, he was a good friend and colleague. During the 1990s, a Democratic congressman told me that a GOP redistricting expert told him it would be permissible to connect his district via low tide along a waterfront. Although the Member didn’t know the expert’s name, I immediately called Tom Hofeller who informed me that, yes indeed, he told several Members of Congress, of both parties, that you could draw the line along the coast—as long as you could stay dry above water, at least at low tide. After all, no law said you couldn’t. RIP. He will be missed.”
Wendy Underhill, NCSL’s director of redistricting and elections, enjoyed learning from Hofeller in person and over the phone.