We’ve spoken of political parties, their extra-constitutional existence. We spoken about the very constitutional Electoral College, a real “sticky wicket.” The real soft spot in our democratic election process however is something called Gerrymandering. Let’s start with what it is, then why it’s called what it is, and then most importantly why it is a rot that must be cleaned out lest one branch of our government cave in on itself.
It was an assumedly cold day being March of 1815 in Boston, when Mass. Governor Eldridge Gerry signed into law a bill that would forever warp American politics. He died two years later. I can’t say if it was divine punishment or not. The result allowed the party in power of the state legislature to draw the lines of the congressional districts. The first attempt produced a district that looked like a mythological salamander. The Boston Globe forever after coined the word Gerrymander, joining the Gov’s name to what we as kids used to call “Saly’s,” Salamanders. There are more commanding things one would think to go down in history for, but if fact this was a doozy. It has created a political kaleidoscope in a way that fixes the odds of election for the incumbent and in some cases fixes them so firmly that many a congressional seat goes unchallenged because it’s basically a waste of money, time, energy and ego to do so.
A given party takes over control of the state legislature. The decade has passed, the census certified, and it is by law time to draw/redraw the congressional districts. If you were unaware that it was a state responsibility to create the voting districts of the Congress, now you know. Don’t forget it.
The goal of this game is to put enough voters of the majority party in as many of the districts as possible. Now there are two ways to do this. One is a definite benefit to the real estate industry. You get all your party members to move out of their minority districts so their chosen districts become majority districts. You’d need lots of moving trucks, traffic cops, and so on, a lot of trouble, but over time the color, red or blue, of that district would change.
The solons of the the state legislatures chose not to move the people, they decided to move the lines of the districts. They figured out how many of their party they need to get the right color district they want and they draw lines here and there, up and down, in and out and presto all the red folks are on one side of these lines and the blues the other. The fact that the law requires certain rules to be followed that would make the districts as balanced as possible (decided by the courts) doesn’t seem to phase folks much.
Why does it matter? Well let’s say our party has done poorly over the years with blue eyed folks. So we draw the lines to encapsulate all the light eyes while filling remaining districts with as many dark eyed folks as possible. Yes, light eyed people are likely to elect a light eyed representative from that district, but it is also likely that none of the concerns of light eyed people will count for much in the other districts where the dark eyes folks look askance at them. To keep things simple, let’s say this is done is every single state possible. The rest is math. There will be many fewer light eyed folks in Congress and the agenda of the dark eyed people will most always carry the day. Done in both chambers you have now created a legislative body that really doesn’t have to give a hoot about those pesky light eye-sers. Since the congressional district is the basic lego block of government impacting legislation, the Electoral College, and often the will of the minority party one can see that Gov. Gerry had a cold political heart on that cold Mass. day.
Enter the courts. Politicians, like five year olds, will try to get away with anything they can. Even Patrick Henry of the “Give me Liberty….”fame did his best to jury-rig the lines to keep James Madison from getting elected as a representative to the Virginia legislature. Would that we had such quality pecking away at each other today. So it is no surprise that there is a movement a foot driven by the progressive organization called KOS to rid us of Gov. Gerry’s legacy. Additionally two weeks ago the courts in NC invalidated the state redrawn district lines, though oddly implying there was no rush. meaning if it wasn’t done by the mid-term elections, “oh well….”
And as I write this the Supreme Court of the Keystone State (Pa.) ruled that state’s newly redrawn districts unconstitutional but they want it done in hurry-up time. The decision of course is no being appealed to the Federal Supreme Court. So much for hurrying.
We are left with two thoughts. One is drawn from former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil who said, “All politics is local.” We pay little attention and vote less for lower card races like the state legislature. It was once opined that the most important politician is the one you can get to fix your problem, like a pothole on your street or a broken traffic light. By paying no attention to state legislative races we not only show our ignorance of the American political power grid, we leave critically important decisions to people with the stealth of five year old who have to prioritize these decisions into actions mostly within 3 months time, the usual length of a state legislative session. Any mother can tell you about the prioritizing skills of a five year old.
The second is that we as a people know very little about our government, how it works and who pulls which levers to get it to work at all. Gerrymandering is something we’ve paid no attention to probably because it comes up every 10 years, its only the consequences that affect us every day. More than a salamander, it is a leech that sucks the competitive life out of our democracy. When the people are interested enough to begin taking back the government from the politicians, by telling the politicians what they want instead of the other way around, this is a good issue to begin with because it will either leave us with a life-less democracy worthy of and receiving our contempt or revolution will be needed to untrench something so entrenched that even when done illegally no one cares or notices.
Bill Gralnick scrambles his mind for your every Sunday with thoughts laid out in “atleastfromfromperspectiveblog.wordpress.com
Many more eggs are laid waste to in his two books:
“Mirth, Wind, and Ire” http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/692523
“More Mirth, Wind, and Ire http://www.smashword.com/books/view/758411
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