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Dump the bums

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A few days ago while channel surfing, I stopped on a story on Fox News. According to the speaker, he and his group are developing an effort to vote out all incumbent Congressional legislators. While I understand the rage that exists over incumbents who have been in office for more years than one cares to count or who are so far to one extreme end or the other that nothing gets done but party politicking. I understand that too many Congressional people become enormously, outrageously rich as a result of their office. I understand the rage caused by too many legislators who refuse to leave office even when they are no longer able to perform their duties. And the rage caused by all of the lavish benefits they receive after they’ve left office that most of us only dream about receiving when we lose a job.

But what the people who cry, “Throw the bums out!” miss is that, as a result of gerrymandering, legislative and Congressional districts are safe for one

Florida Gerrymandered District

Florida Gerrymandered District

party or the other. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines gerrymandering as:
1 : to divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible
2 : to divide (an area) into political units to give special advantages to one group

Wikipedia defines the term thus:

Gerrymandering is a form of boundary delimitation (redistricting) in which electoral district or constituency boundaries are deliberately modified for electoral purposes, thereby producing a contorted or unusual shape. The resulting district is known as a gerrymander; however, that noun can also refer to the process.

Gerrymandering may be used to achieve desired electoral results for a particular party, or may be used to help or hinder a particular group of constituents, such a political, racial, linguistic, religious or class group.

Wikipedia goes on to state:

The effect of gerrymandering for incumbents is particularly advantageous, as incumbents are far more likely to be reelected under conditions of gerrymandering. For example, in 2002, according to political scientists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, only four challengers were able to defeat incumbent members of the US Congress, the lowest number in modern American history.[3] Incumbents are likely to be of the majority party orchestrating a gerrymander, and incumbents are usually easily renominated in subsequent elections, including incumbents among the minority.

This demonstrates that gerrymandering can have a deleterious effect on the principle of democratic accountability. With uncompetitive seats/districts reducing the fear that incumbent politicians may lose office, they have less incentive to represent the interests of their constituents, even when those interests conform to majority support for an issue across the electorate as a whole. Incumbent politicians may look out more for their party’s interests than for those of their constituents.

Gerrymandering can have an impact on campaign costs for district elections. If districts become increasingly stretched out, candidates must pay increased costs for transportation and trying to develop and present campaign advertising across a district.[citation needed] The incumbent’s advantage in securing campaign funds is another benefit of his or her having a gerrymandered secure seat.
Gerrymandering can also be done to help incumbents as a whole, effectively turning every district into a packed one and greatly reducing the potential for competitive elections. This is particularly likely to occur when the minority party has significant obstruction power — unable to enact a partisan gerrymander, the legislature instead agrees on ensuring their own mutual reelection.

In an unusual occurrence in 2000, for example, the two dominant parties in the state of California cooperatively redrew both state and Federal legislative districts to preserve the status quo, ensuring the electoral safety of the politicians from unpredictable voting by the electorate. This move proved completely effective, as no State or Federal legislative office changed party in the 2004 election, although 53 congressional, 20 state senate, and 80 state assembly seats were potentially at risk.

If that last paragraph does not convince you of the deleterious and non-competitive effects of gerrymandering, then think of it this way: Say you really dislike Nancy Pelosi. Given gerrymandering, Ms. Pelosi is safe. There is no way to get her out office unless a Democratic contender who is even further to the left challenges her. The same hold true for Joe Barton of Texas. He’s held his office since 1985. But the Texas legislature gerrymandered their districts years ago in such as to prevent Democratic candidates from obtaining office. In other words, Joe Barton is safe unless someone further right than he challenges him.

Is this Democracy? Is it democratic that candidates who are moderate – close to the center – are incapable of being elected because of the way legislatures have gerrymandered districts to support only one specific party? Is it democratic that the only candidate who has any chance to defeat an incumbent is someone who is even further to the extreme end of the very same party?

So, are we really being represented? Is this what Jefferson, Madison, Adams and so many other good men had in mind when they struggled to create a new nation?


Written by Valerie Curl

October 7, 2009 at 7:11 PM

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