The Spitfire's Grill
Regular Rants from a Pragmatic Liberal
Friday, June 03, 2005
Topic of the Day: Gerrymandering
I haven't paid too much attention to topics to blog about recently, which is just fine because it means I can catch up on articles I wanted to discuss. Articles like this NYTimes editorial on gerrymandering.


Pictures speak louder than words, so I'll remain fairly quiet for this post and we'll look at some wonderful Congressional Districts (keep in mind that state legislative districts, ie the bodies that have control over gerrymandering, look much worse because there's more of them in a state and there's more at risk in terms of maintaining the gerrymandering power).

I really dislike hotlinking, but my image hosting is down for right now. I really suggest you go to Printable Maps, a wonderful resource.

South Florida really sets the gold standard:

Now its hard to see, but you'll see two yellow spots in SE Florida. Believe it or not, that's one district, they're connected by paths that look to be about a block wide. Take a closer look. That's Florida's 22nd District (better map here). If you ever wondered how a Republican gets elected in rabidly liberal South Florida, that's how. That particular gem is Clay Shaw's district.

Now that we've seen Republicans do it, here's how we liberals draw things up:

Now both Florida and California have redistricting movements going on right now. The main difference is that Jeb Bush supports it as some sort of moral imperative in California (where it will benefit Republicans), but it would just cost too much for his home state (where it would benefit Democrats). So much for moral imperatives. Don't believe me? Read it for yourself.

Ultimately, however, redistricting almost always benefits the incumbents (unless its a swing district and the incumbant is the opposite party of the state legislature). Its a real good 'ole boy system.

Enter the NYTimes editorial board:
Gerrymandering has always been part of American politics, but it has reached disturbing new lows. Party operatives now use powerful computers to draw lines that guarantee their party as many seats as possible. The longstanding tradition that Congressional districts are redrawn only once every 10 years was obliterated in Texas in 2003, when Tom DeLay pushed through a partisan "re-redistricting." Democrats are now talking about doing the same thing in states they control, such as Illinois, New Mexico and Louisiana.
Last I heard Republicans were trying it in Georgia and, obviously, Arnold's trying to do it in California. It is, quite frankly, uncalled for.
Partisan redistricting puts the interests of political parties ahead of the voters. The parties want districts they know they can win, and they have done a good job of creating them. In the last election, there were only a handful of competitive Congressional races; most races were decided by landslides.

The voters, however, are best served by competitive districts in which candidates need to work to win their votes. The decline of swing districts is having a corrosive effect on Congress, which is more than ever made up of members from the extremes of both parties, who do not need to appeal to voters in the middle for re-election.

You'd think that guaranteed wins would make Congress stray further away from election cash. Ha! Apparently Tom DeLay didn't get that memo.
Redistricting reform is difficult to achieve at the state level. Most state legislatures have a vested interest in the status quo. And in these partisan times, a party that controls a state government is likely to oppose any redistricting that gives Congressional seats to the other side. National standards are needed that would require every state to draw Congressional districts in a way that put the voters' interests first.

Representative John Tanner, a Tennessee Democrat, introduced a bill last week that would do just that. His bill would create nonpartisan redistricting commissions in every state. The commissions would be prohibited from taking the voters' party affiliations or voting history into account when drawing lines. Instead, the bill would emphasize continuity of counties, municipalities and neighborhoods. The bill would also limit Congressional redistricting to once every 10 years.

It is no surprise that the bill's sponsor, Mr. Tanner, is a moderate Democrat from Tennessee. Southern Democrats, Northern Republicans and moderates from both parties and all regions are the ones being pushed out of Congress by partisan redistricting, and re-redistricting.

Drawing less partisan lines would reinvigorate the center in American politics, and make House members pay more attention to their constituents and less to their party leaders. That is why Mr. Tanner's bill is likely to have a hard time in today's Congress. It is also why it is important for everyone who wants to improve American politics to support it.

Now that Mr Tanner is a pragmatic liberal, indeed.

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