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Posted by on Jul 26, 2006 in At TMV | 2 comments

Redistricting Watch: National Updates

There’s been some building momentum in recent weeks on the redistricting reform front, and I’ve been behind the eight-ball, for which I must apologize. Here are some recent developments:

– Back on July 18, Reps. John Tanner (D-TN), Zach Wamp (R-TN) and other supporters of the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act held a news conference in response to the Supreme Court’s end-of-term ruling on redistricting issues. “If we are going to fix this problem and give control of Congress back to the American people like our founding fathers intended, then the House and Senate must take that action now,” Tanner said, referring to passage of his bill. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) said “We should all be concerned about the political shenanigans and gerrymandering that occur in this country. It affects the makeup of Congress and leaves nearly 90% of Members with safe seats and little chance of losing an election. We need to clean up this process.” Dear Colleague letters [pdf] have been sent to members of both houses of Congress encouraging them to support action on the FIRA. If you haven’t written to your members of Congress and offered your support, I urge you to do so if so inclined.

– The National Taxpayers Union has released a statement in support of the FIRA, which says, in part: “At first glance, this bill would not seem to have a direct impact on taxpayers, but NTU believes H.R. 2642 is key to restoring the citizen-legislator model our Founders envisioned. NTU’s letter noted, ‘Unfortunately, although the process of drawing lines on a map to preserve political power has a long history in this country, the use of computers and other modern technologies has created a situation in which there are only 25 or so truly competitive races for 435 seats nationwide.’ The result, according to [NTU Vice President for Communications Pete] Sepp, is two-fold: ‘Hard-working taxpayers who are convinced their votes won’t make a difference stay home, while those who profit from bigger government flock to the polls. Meanwhile, the political class that’s propelled into office by this constituency cares even less about fiscal discipline and tax reform.'”

– The renewed push for reform has garnered some media attention, including articles in Roll Call (blocked by subscription, unfortunately) and the Associated Press.

– The editorial board of the Clarksville TN Leaf-Chronicle chimed in on July 23, noting “To be sure, gerrymandering has a long history in the United States. But a system that is designed to keep one party in power – whether Republican or Democrat is immaterial – doesn’t conform to the basic principles of our representative democracy. Whether Tanner can get his bill through Congress is pretty iffy, given the current political situation, but it ought to be taken seriously and debated on its merits in a nonpartisan manner.”

– Writing for the Knoxville News Sentinel, columnist Richard Powelson discusses the Tanner-Wamp bipartisan cooperation around this issue; he makes the important point that “Tanner is getting support for his bill from some well-known grassroots organizations like Common Cause and Public Citizen and the National Taxpayers Union. But these groups and Tanner’s four-dozen House supporters need to stir up many Americans to get the attention of the power brokers in Washington to change the rules.”

– In Roll Call today, DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel wrote a column titled “A Big Factor in Corruption: Gerrymandering” (again, blocked by subscription). It starts “The gerrymandering of Congressional districts has created a system where, all too often, the fix is in and the incumbent always wins. Across the nation, redistricting has become an engine of polarization, partisanship and incumbency protection.” I’m working on getting the full text of the column and will update the post with more excerpts when available. [Update: I’ve read the piece now, and it’s quite significant. Emanuel writes that “Monopolies are just as bad in politics as they are in business,” calling for “modern-day trustbusters” to change the system. He correlates corruption with a lack of competition, and calls the recent 99% reelection rate “acceptable, perhaps, for the Politburo, but not for Congress.” He says he backs passage of the FIRA, and concludes by noting “Our democracy should not require voters to navigate high walls and structural barriers that have been erected to achieve preordained results. As we advocate for democracy around the world, it’s time we restore democracy to our own elections.” A strong statement, the first such from the leadership on either side of the aisle, as far as I know.]

– Meanwhile, down in Texas, the redrawing of the districts ruled invalid by the Supreme Court continues, and it’s prompted this editorial from the San Antonio Express-News. The paper calls for the establishment of a bipartisan redistricting commission, to “take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians and give the job to a board designed to craft competitive districts that give priority to community interests instead of partisan advantage.”

As the elections draw closer, it’s unlikely (most unfortunately) that we’ll see movement on the Tanner bill during this session. In the aftermath of what is sure to be an important election whatever way it goes, however, the push must continue and increase. The time has come.

For previous Redistricting Watch posts, please see here. Re

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