Thursday, May 19, 2005

It's past time to do something about gerrymandering

Gerrymandering has always been a blight, but it’s been getting particularly bad lately, in light of Tom DeLay’s piracy of the Texas districts in 2003 and the famous 2001 redistricting in Pennsylvania that was declared so unconstitutional that they’d only let those districts stand for ten years.

An option I feel is better is the idea of non-partisan committees redrawing the districts. Iowa does this, and it works fine. In the 2004 elections, four of Iowa’s five House races were considered competitive, which is much better than most states. The one district that wasn’t was in heavily Republican western Iowa, so no reasonable person could possibly make an argument that this was the result of gerrymandering. And it’s not that the results of the races please me in a partisan sense—of Iowa’s five Representatives, four are Republicans. I’d rather see things the other way around, but I can’t complain about the integrity of their process.

A lot of other states are utter messes. Packing and cracking ravaged districts in Pennsylvania and Michigan during their 2000 reäpportionments, for example. It didn’t happen in Texas until the coup de Lay a couple of years later, of course, which is one of the vilest power grabs in memory. Many (but I’m sure not all) redistricting exercises have favored Republicans in recent years, but I’m sure that if things are left unchanged, the winds will blow in another direction. While Republicans will certainly overturn the unfairly-drawn pro-Democrat districts in Georgia, if they still control the state legislature after the 2010 census (which they likely will,) more changes will likely favor the Democrats. Consider New York, Illinois, and New Jersey, which in 2000 had Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican governors. Since then, the Democrats have taken over the state legislatures and governor’s mansions of Illinois and New Jersey, and there’s a good chance that they’ll take New York’s soon, too. These are big states with a lot of districts gerrymandered to favor Republicans. Changes in Southern states where Republicans have taken over the legislatures during the past decade might offset this, but then, they might not. Between those three states are 59 House seats, and gerrymandering could turn a whole lot in the favor of the Democrats.

Pennsylvania is a little different—Republicans, in control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion in 2000, put together an appallingly corrupt, highly partisan plan for reshaping districts. If Pennsylvania still has a Democratic governor after the 2010 census, he or she could probably work out a palatable compromise with the state legislature, which will likely remain Republican-controlled. However, if the Democrats do manage to retain the governor’s post and take over the legislature by then, then Pennsylvania could be subject to corrupt packing and cracking that would favor the Democrats this time.

The case of California in 1990 was like that: a Republican governor parried a Democratic-controlled legislature and worked out a compromise of districts that pleased no one. In 2000, Governor Davis, a Democrat, struck a compromise of some sort that left the 1990 districts intact; if he hadn’t, California would have been a pro-Democrat redistricting free-for-all. Considering how much California favors Democrats, in 2010, there’s a good chance that that will happen.

Even though I feel the pendulum is due to swing my party’s way, I say enough! This has to stop! Florida has just proposed an appalling plan which, if implemented, would set up a nine-member panel consisting of three Republicans, three Democrats, and three people who have declared no party affiliation for the past two years, at least. This would mean that if you simply cease to officially call yourself a Republican, you could worm your way onto the panel as a nominal independent, working as a ringer for the Republican Party. This system too easily corrupted. We need completely neutral candidates to organize the redistricting—people like me, who either can’t or won’t put aside their partisan leanings, have no business having anything to do with it. It won’t prevent corruption, God knows, but I’m sure it will help, as evidenced by Iowa.

Arizona has adopted an Iowa-like non-partisan system as well, I understand. To look at its pro-Republican gerrymandered districts, you’d never know it, but their new system isn’t due to take effect until 2010. That’s two states; 41 to go (since seven states only have one at-large district, anyway. For now, at least…)

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