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Redistricting and Gerrymandering

New -- 6 September 2003

 

Updated -- 20 June 2005

 

Updated -- 4 November 2006

 

Redistricting is becoming a dirty word, and in Texas -- as befitting the allegedly greatest state in the union -- it's a REALLY BIG dirty word.

 

You may already know that it's considered to be impolite to ask someone where they're from.  If they're from Texas, they will eventually tell you in the course of the conversation.  If they're not from Texas, you don't want to embarrass them.

 

There is a growing suspicion that you've just said your own dirty word!

 

In any case, the so-called political art of gerrymandering is defined as "the manipulation of boundaries of a constituency so as to give undue influence to some party or class."  The word was actually coined from a Massachusetts Governor named Gerry and the shape of one district formed during his tenure in the shape of a (sala)mander.  Nowadays, it should be noted, the shapes of such things as Congressional districts are more likely to be weird examples of Chaos Theory, inkblot tests from psychotic psychological sources, and random milk spills by crazed cats in heat who have just had a bath.

 

The Constitution for the United States of America requires a census every ten years in order to ensure that the membership of the U. S. House of Representatives is based upon the current population distribution by each of the states of the union.  This invariably means that following each census -- with migration and uneven increases in each state's population in the interim decade -- some states with populations increasing beyond the norm will gain seats in the Congress (the House of Representatives), while other states with relatively lower or decreasing populations will lose seats.  In each case, there is the need to redraw the lines delineating the new and old congressional districts.

 

Such redistricting efforts are often the height of hardball partisanship -- a no holds barred, everything's-fair-in-war mentality which seemingly has no regard whatsoever for the rights and preferences of the actual voting citizenry.  The really blatant problems are in Florida (surprise!), Texas, and... well, every state in the union at one time or the other.

 

In fact, the results have been spectacular. According to The Atlantic Monthly [6], the number of competitive seats in the House of Representatives in 1962 was 178 -- with the Democrats enjoying a solidly Democratic seat in 171 races, and the Republicans having a solidly Republican seat in 86 cases. By 1982, the number of competitive seats at decreasing to 138, with the forty no longer competivie seats being split unevenly: 30 to the Democrats and 10 to the Republicans. In 2002, however, the Republicans came back strong and now have 190 seats which are solidly Republican districts, the Democrats and fallen back and now have only 166 solidly Democratic districts, and the competitive seats now number a meager 79. Given the tendency of encumbents to win against all odds, any hint of suspense of election night with respect to the House of Representatives is almost entirely Media hype. [7]

 

More recently, Juliet Eilperin [8] has written that, "We've set up a system that rewards the most partisan representatives with all-but-lifetime tenure while forcing many of those who work toward legislative compromises to wage an endless, soul-sapping fight for political survival. Thanks to today's expertly drawn [via gerrymandering] congressional districts, most lawmakers represent seats that are either overwhelmingly Republican or overwhelmingly Democratic. As long as House members appeal to their party's base, they're in okay shape -- a strategy that has helped yield a 98 percent reelection rate on Capital Hill."

 

"This sort of voter segregation has created a legislative body whose members belong to factions at the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum and rarely engage each other." "Bottom line, the big picture is there are a hundred Republicans who never talk to Democrats on the floor, and a hundred Democrats who never talk to Republicans..."

 

Ms. Eilperin concludes that, "...it's hard to instill broad accountability in elected officials whose political livelihoods are assured as long as they cater to ideological extremists. Only through the spread of competive districts can the House as an institution regain the habits of comity and cooperation that have made it an effective legislative body. Representatives who must answer to a wide constituency to win reelection are more likely to reach across the ailse to solve their constituents', and their country's, problems." [8] [emphasis added]

Admittedly, The Atlantic Monthly is not exactly the epitome of conservative journalism. It's quite the contrary, as a matter of fact. But the Gerrymandering garbage has been taken to such extremes that even Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger has "shocked the pols [politicians] by proposing that they have real elections again." [7] He even wanted to remove the responsibility of drawing congressional and state legislative districts from the politicians and given to a panel of non-partisan retired judges. Even more astounding -- i.e. a measure of just how bad the problem has become -- the very conservative Steve Forbes of Forbes Magazine has agreed with Arnold, and noted that "Monopoly is bad for business, and competition is good. The same holds true for politics." [7]

 

For example, after the 2002 election in Florida -- and despite the incredibly close (roughly fifty-fifty) race two years previously in the Presidential election between the Democratic and Republican candidates -- the State of Florida ended up with 18 Republican members of Congress, while the Democrats had only seven.  This assumes that the population of Florida is voting Republican 72% of the time, when in fact the presidential variation is on the order of 50%.  In the case of the 5th congressional district race that same year in Florida, the Republican candidate received 47.9% of the vote to his Democratic opponent's 46.2% [1].  Obviously, having a Governor and Secretary of State willing to aid the Republican cause is a political asset.

 

Meanwhile, in the State of Colorado, which gained a congressional seat based on the 2000 census, the newly created 7th district saw a contest in which the difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates was 121 votes out of a total of 171,879 votes cast [1], or about 0.0704%!  Obviously, the precise carving out of the district was decidedly to the benefit of the Republican Party, which saw its Congressional delegation increase from a majority of 4 Republicans to 2 Democrats to a 5 to 2 majority.  This occurred in a state where roughly one third of the voters are registered as Republicans, a slightly lesser amount as Democrats, and the largest percentage as independents (i.e. no party affiliation).  And you wonder how the Republican's managed to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives after the 2002 election?

 

Then there's Texas!

 

The Texas legislature, led by the Republican Governor of Texas, decided that the court approved redistricting plan was insufficient for Republican Rule in Texas and decided to reconsider the redistricting plan.  The outnumbered Democrats promptly left the State in order to leave the legislature without a quorum and thereby block the blatantly partisan move.  Enormously more entertaining than a filibuster (which has lost a lot of the luster it once had), the Democratic idea was to ensure that the current plurality of 17 Democrats to 15 Republicans in the U.S. House continued, instead of reshaping the districts so as to give the Texas Republicans a 22 to 10 advantage.

 

The reasoning for a net change of 7 seats of Congress was based on the U. S. House majority whip, Tom Delay, attempting to rectify the inequity stemming from the last election in which the Republicans garnered 56% of the votes [2].  The idea of setting things up so that the Republicans would have a 22 to 10 advantage, or 69% of the seats, does not quite reflect the 56% of voters' preference -- but then when have politicians ever been mathematically reasonable?  Or when has Tom Delay ever been equitable?

 

The Texas legislature needs a minimum of two-thirds of the 150 legislator seats as a quorum, and the defection of 51 Democrats was just enough to forestall the situation.  A Texas house rule, however, does allow for the arrest of any members trying to thwart a quorum and force them back into their seats.  So the Democrats headed for Oklahoma -- which for Texans is like self-flagellation [3], despite its appeal of being beyond the reach of the famed Texas Rangers.  [No, no, not the baseball team!]

 

Astoundingly, the plan worked!  Despite Republican efforts to find the wayward Democrats using: 1) milk carton boxes with the faces of missing Democrats, 2) Iraq-inspired playing cards with their pictures, 3) an all-points bulletin on the state's public-safety website, and 4) the use of federal Department of Homeland Security to try to track down the "enemy combatants," -- the Democrats prevailed.  The good news is that the Democrats were encouraged by Willie Nelson to "Stand your ground" and generally supported by the electorate.  The bad news was the use of the federal Homeland Security apparatus -- a series of acts which were not widely applauded.

 

Republicans are, however, not ones to allow simple legalities to stem their ardor in reaching their nefarious aims.  The Republican Governor simply called for another session.  This time, the House rammed through a redistricting bill [4] in less than 20 minutes (pretty much taking the wind out of the Democratic sails bound for Louisiana).  Not surprisingly, it did require suspending all rules and without referring the issue to a committee first as was the normal procedure.

 

Whereupon 11 Democratic Senators fled to Albuquerque, New Mexico to block the next step in the effort to pass the Republican's very own redistricting bill.  The senators were basically telling the world that they would not be returning until Republican Governor Perry gave up on the redistricting plan or that Lt. Governor David Dewhurst agree to follow the Texas Senate tradition that required a two-thirds vote before a bill was taken up for floor debate.

 

In the end the Republicans won the day, and the Democrats and the votersí best interests being tossed aside.  Every day it becomes ever more apparent that election results have nothing to do with the will of the people.  It's about party politics, and blind obedience to the whims of party leaders.

 

For more on the idea of redistricting, see [5].

 

Or don't even bother and instead apply to immigrate to Old Europe -- or perhaps Bhutan.

 

  A Case for Free Elections         Counting Votes         The (9) Supremes

 

Constitution for the United States of America       Justice, Order, and Law

 

State of the Union and/or Preemptive Rule

Or forward to:

Privacy         9-11-2001         Homeland InSecurity

 

Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows         Nature of Law

 

New:

The Milgram Effect

 

Freedom of Religion        Holy War        The Rules of Holy War

 

Racism and Culturalism         Multiculturalism         Perils of Immigration

 

Free Speech         The (9) Supremes         The Halls of SCOTUS

An American Third Party         A Third Party That Knows How to Party

 

 

_____________________________

 

References:

 

[1] http://clerk.house.gov/members/election_information/2002/2002Stat.htm

 

[2] http://www.townhall.com/news/politics/200307/POL20030730d.shtml

 

[3] Joel Stein, "Sure Beats Working", Time Magazine, May 26, 2003.

 

[4] http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/2016391

 

[5] http://www.washtimes.com/upi-breaking/20030624-050340-6198r.htm

 

[6] Don Peck and Caitlin Casey, "Packing, Cracking, and Kidnapping, The Science of Gerrymandering," The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2004, pages 50-51.

 

[7] Steve Forbes, "Bring Back Democracy to America," Forbes, February 14, 2005.

 

[8] Juliet Eilperin, "Running for Their Lives," The Atlantic Monthly, October 2006.

 

               

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