Tom Hofeller left CMC in his junior year for four years of service in the United States Navy when the Vietnam War was at its height. He returned to complete his BA in 1970, began course work at CGU, and took a position as a co-founder and senior technical consultant at CMC’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government.
Over the following decade, Tom played an increasingly important role at the Rose Institute. He was named assistant director and then, after completion of his PhD, associate director. In these years Tom led the Institute in the design and development of California’s first computerized geo-political database.
Until the mid-1980s, the Rose Institute lacked endowment and was dependent on income from sales from the California Database and other data sets. Tom developed all these resources with assistance from Bob Walters, the Institute’s head programmer. Under Tom’s guidance CMC students participated in every aspect of the Institute’s work, from data input through data analysis to data sales. Statewide databases for other states were built in those years, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois. By 1980 more than 40 CMC students were working in different areas of the Institute’s entrepreneurial business. Tom’s work was vital to the Institute’s founding and growth, and the hundreds of Institute alumni are a wonderful legacy.
Tom and his wife, Kathy, were committed members of the Claremont community. Kathy, who also earned a PhD at CGU, was largely responsible for the establishment of the House of Ruth, a shelter for abused women. They were active members of the congregation at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church and were involved as parents at Foothill Country Day School.
In the early 1980s the Hofellers left Claremont for Washington DC. It was a career move that brought Tom into national prominence as a redistricting expert. The significance of his role was highlighted in obituary articles in the New York Times and The Hill. The Hill wrote, “For more than four decades, when Republicans needed strategic advice drawing political boundaries, the party turned to a small cadre of expert cartographers, trained in the rare art of redistricting. At the heart of that group was Tom Hofeller.” The New York Times echoed that history, describing Tom as “a political consultant whose mastery of redistricting strategy helped propel the Republican Party from underdog to the dominant force in state legislatures and the House of Representatives.”
The Hill summarized Tom’s work: “He is one of only a handful of people who helped create the modern redistricting process, first by crafting district lines meant to overcome decades of Democratic advantages and then by tilting the field in favor of Republicans in later years.” The New York Times agreed: “For most of his 48-year career, Mr. Hofeller was little known outside the small band of government clerks, political strategists and data buffs who surfaced, cicada-like, after every decennial census to draw new political maps.”
Despite working in the highly partisan and contentious realm of redistricting, Tom was respected on both sides of the aisle. The Hill quotes Tim Storey, director of state services for the National Conference of State Legislatures: “Hofeller had no trouble getting along with the other side: ‘Fight with Dems during work hours, but then clock out and go enjoy telling war stories together over drinks.’” Democratic redistricting lawyer Jeff Wice wrote “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. We were always able to communicate and work together. RIP. He will be missed.” Tom’s longtime redistricting ally Clark Bensen echoed those sentiments “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.”
Tom was famous for ‘Hofeller-isms,’ drawn from decades of experience in redistricting and redistricting litigation. These statements became highlights of National Conference of State Legislature conferences and seminars. Hofeller-isms included such gems as “Never travel without legal counsel” and “the ‘e’ in email stands for Eternal.”
Throughout his decades in Washington, Tom always stayed close to the Rose Institute and CMC. He was always happy to have Rose students intern for him, and they remembered him as the ideal mentor: he spent significant time with them, personally guided their work, offered advice about work, CMC, and life in general. Tom also stayed in touch after the internship and was happy to help their careers after the students returned to school.
Tom’s fame came from his national work and his national biographies all mention his frequent appearances at the conferences held by the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Tom always remembered his roots, and would always make time on his schedule to appear at any Rose Institute conference. Hundreds of Rose Institute alumni, and, hundreds of students who worked at the CMC Institutes that followed Rose’s success, have benefited from his legacy.
Tom passed away on August 16, 2018 at age 75.