Thursday, October 30, 2014

How do you know your ideas really have support when districts are gerrymandered?

It would seem that one side is not listening to the other and is doing everything they can to keep them quiet by gerrymandering districts. It is no secret that after the last census, while Republicans held majorities in their state houses, gerrymandering became a popular fad in many Red States.

But consider what is happening as a result of gerrymandering. When districts are drawn to marginalize the opposition, they have some interesting effects. For one, when one faction is marginalized by the other, the marginalized faction loses their right to representation in their government. The second is that when representation is denied to one faction or another, the dominant faction in a district can impose their will upon the other with impunity and can pass laws that affect the other faction more so than the dominant faction.

Obviously, asserting power over others is very cool if you're say, very well to do. But if you're on the receiving end of that assertiveness, it's not very fun. And if you have no one there to represent your interests when it comes to writing and passing laws, there is only one thing left to do: protest.

I think it was Howard Zinn who said that protests are what happens when legislatures and courts are inadequate or unresponsive to grievances. I guess that's what we can expect when better than 80% of the seats in the US House of Representatives and the Senate are deemed to be safe. It has been well documented that we have a safe seat problem in our elective offices. Safe seats arise from gerrymandering.

According to PBS, about 48 seats in the House and 12 seats in the Senate actually have a contest. The rest of the seats are considered safe. I know of a couple of House districts in Utah, for example, that don't have a Democrat running against the Republican incumbent this year. What are Republicans saying in those districts? "Democrats? There's no one here but us Republicans!" But the Democrats in those districts are living in a district that simply cannot be flipped, which means that the sitting Republican doesn't have to listen to the other guys, now, does he?

I'm not rooting for either side here, but I want to point out that as soon as one party or another rises to power, they suddenly change from underdog to dictator. This trend can be arrested by drawing the districts so that no party is favored. Given the technology available today, with help from Google (j/k), we can draw districts that are even.

But there is one other thing that we can do that I don't see anyone suggesting at the national level. Give 3rd parties access to the debates. 3rd parties are willing to address issues that the Donkey and the Elephant are not willing to discuss on TV. As we saw during the campaign of Jesse Ventura, he ran against candidates who at times refused to debate him on television. The two dominant parties seem to take a certain pride in keeping 3rd parties out of national politics and that is very anti-democratic.

As we can see from the various protests around the country, we have a two-party system that does not have the capacity to address grievances posed by those who protest. Perhaps if there were some real competition for seats, we can keep our so-called leaders intellectually honest.

I want to close on one last point. A candidate who says he's Democrat or Republican, but only represents members of his own party in his seat when he votes, is not doing his job. The job of a Congressman, Senator or a member of a state house, is to represent everyone in the district. It is not his job to vote only for what he likes or is consistent with his party's platform. He must take all sides into consideration of his votes. That's what it means to represent a district.

Perhaps if we had legislators who agreed with that job description, we'd see fewer protests.
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