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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Monday, November 08, 2004


Redistricting and Democracy

posted by Brian Ulrich at Monday, November 08, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
Over at Cliopatra, K.C. Johnson looks at gerrymandering as a crisis in American democracy:
"Excluding the Texas gerrymander, last Tuesday three incumbent congressmen (two Republicans, one Democrat) were defeated; three more open seats changed parties (two previously held by a Republican, one by a Democrat). In only 12 other contests (CA 20, CO 4, CT 2, CT 4, IN 2, IN 8, MN 6, MO 3, NY 29, OR 5, SD AL, PA 6) did the winner prevail by less than 10 percentage points. (Two seats in Louisiana remain to be decided.) This outcome occurred at a time when a majority of voters believed that the country was on the wrong track and the country is mired in a war that (regardless of one’s opinions on its merits) clearly has not gone as the administration promised."

 When our Constitution was designed, the founders saw the House a representing the changing whims of the masses, while the Senate with its lesser turnover would be where the issues of the day were deliberating by those of wisdom and experience. However, we're now in a situation where prior to this election - and maybe even now, with a couple of party defections - the Senate is the body most likely to change hands. As Dick Morris has often said on FOXNews, most Congressional seats are now little more than pensioned civil service positions dispensed by party patronage networks.

This is a crisis in democracy because it means that with control of the state legislature, a party can ensure its dominance of that legislature and by extension its congressional delegation for the foreseeable future barring a major shift in party allegiance in that state. This was always something of a possibility, but because the lid has now been opened on redrawing congressional districts whenever a legislature feels like it, has become easier than ever before. Is some demographic shift making things competitive again? Just tweak the lines here and there and make things safe again.

Many voters living in "safe states" complained to me during the election that they felt powerless, as their vote didn't seem to count. The states, at least, are well-established entities, and you could argue that as long as we have the electoral college, those will be the breaks. Congressional districts, however, change all the time. Imagine of Congress and the President could redraw the state lines. Were things too close in Ohio? Cut a slice out of eastern Indiana while attaching Cleveland to Michigan. At the same time, make Philadelphia part of New Jersey while replacing it in Pennsylvania with some of western New York. You get the idea - it's called rigging the system. And it must be stopped now.


Maybe this would be a worthy issue for some Deaniacs to go after... starting in Michigan, which has a referendum process.


What is the alternative? I've seen where the Iowa redistricting process is held up as a model, but I don't understand how the Iowa process works.


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.