There’s going to be a voting theme today and I believe there will also be an unplanned dueling between posts.
So ethics reform is obviously a big deal this session, but so far the Gold Dome has dropped the ball. We’ve seen the Senate pass it’s rule (read: porous as a sponge guideline) and we’ve seen Speaker Ralston introduce his two counter pieces of legislation calling the Senate weak but also invoking the wrath of the Tea Party right. Yet, both of these proposals barely scratch the surface of a bigger problem. Attacking the problem from a different angle is HR 5.
The Cliff Notes version of this resolution is to allow a vote for a constitutional amendment that would restrict State House and Senate members to four consecutive terms. Once those four terms have been served, they would then be required to sit one term out. If this sounds familiar, the governorship is similarly structured. But this doesn’t address what’s really wrong with our electoral process: the polarization and lack of trust caused by partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts.
I often compare term limits to a band aid on a shotgun wound. Yes it would stop a little bleeding by forcing an incumbent to step out of the ring every 8 years. And it would also encourage some electoral competition by leaving a vacuum that would need to be filled since the incumbent would be unable to run, thus making it more difficult for an incumbent to stay in power. Creating districts that matched the views, beliefs and philosophies of the population of a district rather than their partisan voting habits would increase the chances of electing pragmatic moderates from those districts.
The creation of “safe” districts for either party only helps to encourage deadlock by allowing the majority party to be pushed further out of the mainstream and lose seats to fringe elements (Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Jose Serrano, Charles Rangel) or encourages loss to the opposing party (think a Christine O’Donnell style House race).
As Republicans I like to think we really believe in free-market principles wherever we find them. The free market and the power of the invisible hand guides the market to optimum efficiency. Why, then, do we not take the same approach to politics? To continue on the economic analogy, gerrymandering is the equivalent of a subsidy. The marketplace is no longer free or fair because there are now outside influences distorting preferences. Why should we be satisfied with a system that permits single-party control for several election cycles when the philosophies, interests and needs of the people who elect legislators to represent them shift over time?
Voters, who are supposed to steer the vehicle that is government. may want to change course several times over 10 years -but creating safe, partisan districts doesn’t allow for shifts in direction, only gears. We can easily look to Georgia and see how much things have changed over the last 10 or 20 years. But, each time the lines were changed we can all remember the fights that erupted.
Recently in 2011, Iowa took their redistricting process and inserted a non partisan agency between the maps and the state legislature. The agency draws the map and the legislature doesn’t get to amend, just vote yes or no. This was done to bring the government to be more responsive to the citizen’s needs and to make it that much more difficult to gerrymander a district.
Instead of being drawn to serve the party in power, these districts better serve the citizens of Iowa. For example districts like GA-6 or GA-11, only make sense if you are trying to ensure they will always be a conservative Republican district. This limits the conversation that is able to be had about different issues, and will only encourage members of those types of districts to be standoffish towards different ideas that may actually be more efficient and effective for any given problem.
Districts that make sense would, in theory at least, make it easier for voters to understand who represented them in Congress and why. People in these contiguous, compact communities of interest would be more aware of issues that concern themselves and their neighbors, which would likely lead to a greater participation levels in elections. Some say this would increase the pool of possible Republican voters, but a better outcome would mean that the candidate with the ideas and beliefs best suited to a district would win the election. As it happens now, the candidate who appeals to the narrowest segment of the general population (i.e., primary voters) has the biggest advantage.
This could be used as a model for each state to bring the purpose of government back to serving the people. The possibility of career politicians still exists (assuming no term limits) but they will have to be more sensitive to the desires of their districts. Thus improving the function of our representative democracy. If Iowa can do it, why can’t we?
Maps and such can be found here.
I’m sure many of you have an opinion, what are your thoughts?