Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Redistricting yet again

The New York Times is reporting that campaigns to end gerrymandering are building steam all across the country. I posted about this a while back, when Arnold first proposed an end to gerrymandering in January - first here ambivalent in the case of California, then here more enthusiastically.

A few interesting bits from the article:
Common Cause, one of the nonpartisan groups championing changes in the system, said campaigns to overhaul redistricting were under way in at least eight states, including California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
One of the concerns I had was that redistricting reform would go through in blue states (with the starry-eyed idealist Democrats in control of state government) but not in red states (with cynical scheming Republicans in power). How does that stereotype hold up in this case? On the one hand, 4 out of 8 are blue states, 3 are swing states, and only 1 is reliably red. And according to the Council of State Governments, 5 of 8 have Democrat-controlled legislatures (CA, CO, MD, MA, RI). On the other hand, 7 of 8 have Republican governors (CA, CO, FL, GA, MD, MA, RI). And Arnold is a Republican who probably helped bring this debate to light. Anyway, this probably doesn't mean much, except that Democrats aren't starry-eyed idealists after all (surprise!), but it does suggest that it may be legitimate to worry that the early stages of ending gerrymandering nationwide could disproportionately eliminate Democratic House seats (by taking place in blue states) rather than Republic House seats (in red states).

Meanwhile, as I said here, gerrymandering doesn't always benefit one party over another anyway (with the exception of DeLay's Texas).
While a political party might want to redraw lines in a way that expands its control of Congressional and state legislative districts, legislators themselves are more likely to want to draw lines that protect their own careers - and Democrats and Republicans frequently strike deals on maps that are more about protecting incumbents than expanding party control.

In California, Mr. Schwarzenegger's proposal has faced some of its fiercest opposition from Republicans, some of whom suggested that it was hardly clear that, in the long run, it would produce a gain of Republican seats in the Congressional delegation.
Sounds about right to me. Finally, an incredibly wrong-headed comment which I've come across in almost identical form before:
"I think taking it away from the legislature goes against the intent of the founders of this country," said Representative John T. Doolittle, a California Republican. "It's a very misplaced effort and I strongly oppose it. Redistricting is inherently political. All you're going to do is submerge the politics."
On the "intent of the founders" point - first of all, the power to draw districts still rests ultimately with the state legislatures. If they choose to delegate it to an independent, nonpartisan body, that is a decision that can be made (or rescinded) by ordinary legislative means. But more importantly, the founders believed above all in restricting the power of the government by the separation of powers and so on. It's pretty clear that they would be none too pleased at the way incumbents have managed to reduce many elections to a farce, cementing their own hold on office (and therefore their power). They couldn't have predicted how easy modern demographics and computers make it to draw extremely cleverly drawn districts for political advantage. Any rational legislative majority, once elected, will take steps to insulate itself from being ousted, unless political institutions are in place that stop them. Of course the founders of this country would want to stop gerrymandering. And hey - delegating redistricting powers to an independent commission would be - wait for it - separation of powers!

Of course redistricting is political. That's exactly why we have to restructure how it is handled so it's not abused. (I criticized the "redistricting is inherently political" meme here in another instance from this article via Jesse Zink.)


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