Al Swift 2¢ Worth

Redistricting: Overcoming Resistance to Reform

Alright, already: This will be the last comment on Congressional Redistricting for a while.

Forty-Seven Representatives and one Senator have introduced legislation to require non-partisan, independent commissions do all Congressional redistricting. Only two of these sponsors are Republicans.

What does that mean? That Republicans are against reform? I must invoke Taylor’s First Law here: Do not ascribe to conspiracy that for which stupidity can suffice as an answer, only for the word “stupidity” substitute “paranoia”.

Here’s what I mean. California’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sponsored a similar initiative in his state last year. Democrats opposed it. In Ohio, it was the Democrats who proposed the reform. Republicans opposed it, using essentially the same arguments the Democrats used in California. And consider this: my partner, Bob Hynes is a good, solid, mid-west Republican and he is even more exercised about this problem than I am. It is very hard to make a convincing case that either party is less resistant or more farsighted on this issue than the other.

I suspect the reason that only two of the 47 House co-sponsors of Rep. John Tanner’s bill are Republicans is precisely because a Democrat proposed it. Things have gotten that bad on the Hill.

The more difficult resistance I suspect will come from incumbents of both parties. Nothing makes an incumbent more nervous that meddling with the rules by which he or she got elected. It is, frankly, the reason campaign financing has been so hard to reform. Everybody wants to keep the devil they know, take no chance on one they don’t.

From that paranoia come visions of every incumbent being tossed out on their ear every ten years, wholesale slaughter of careers in public service, chaos reining. Poppycock.

Compact districts built around traditional, local political boundaries will still create a great many “safe” seats for each party. There is no requirement in this reform to make every district a swing district. That would be absurd. Besides, incumbents do have advantages; ones I believe are quite justified (but that’s another column). Those advantages are not going to disappear.

What will happen is that many districts that have been artificially engineered to lock in one party or the other will change. That will restore to the nation the opportunity to change the composition of Congress significantly in watershed years like 1964 or 1994. Furthermore, it will – in many of those so-called “safe” districts – revive enough partisan competition that leading candidates will be less vulnerable to the most extreme wings of their parties. That – in turn – will make for more moderate caucuses, which – in turn, again – will create a better climate in which to forge the honest compromises that are essential if a free society is to be able to function.

Such a reform – far from radical – will merely round off some of the sharp edges that have always plagued redistricting and protect us from the kind of exaggerated incumbent protection that was handed to us in 2000. Neither party has much to fear. Both parties could tip their hat to the Public Interest by supporting this important reform.

Posted on Monday, August 15th, 2011
By: csh
Posted in: 2006
Colling Swift & Hynes 10486 Armstrong St. Fairfax, VA 22030 P. (202) 347-8000 F. (202) 315-2598