Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Sobering Truth

After watching that wonderful clip of Rachel Maddow and wading through the delectable salty tears of the deranged dead-enders, I thought some sobering perspective was in order.

The American people returned a GOP House of Representatives.  This is despite the fact that the Democrats won 500,000 more House votes nationwide than did the GOP.  In other words, the public as a whole preferred a Democratic House.  Here the story.

But our system does not work that way.  Some do.  South Africa, for instance, has a system where everyone votes in a single, nationwide district and the percentage of votes each party gets determines how many seats in the legislature they get.

There are reasons why this is not a good thing, primarily in that you don't have a direct representative in the government.  Parties also become more powerful than voters. So I'm not advocating for a pure proportional representation system.

No, this is about gerrymandering.

In Pennsylvania, Obama won by 5% points, but Democrats won 5 of the 18 House seats.  In Virginia, Obama won a squeaker, Democrats won 3 of 11 House seats.  In Ohio, Obama won, but the Democrats won 4 of the 16 House seats.

That's gerrymandering.

Even where Obama won... In Georgia, Obama won 45% of the vote, Democrats won 5 of 14 House seats.  Mitt Romney won 40% of the vote in Connecticut, the GOP got 0 Representatives.  Looking at my own district, a conscious decision was made to incorporate as many cities into the 5th District as possible, and those cities provided Elizabeth Esty with her margin of victory.

To look at a congressional map is to look at the fine parsing of demographic lines.

The real tragedy of 2010 was not losing control of the House, but losing control of the state houses.  That was where the decisions were made to redraw the lines to return a disproportionate share of Republicans.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, the following districts gave the GOP candidate more than 60% of the vote: the 4th, 5th, 9th, 10th and 18th.  None of them won more than 66% of the vote. Here's a list of the five districts the Democrats won and the percentage of the vote they won: 1st/85%, 2nd/89%, 13th/69%, 14th/77%, 17th/61%.

In Ohio, the lowest percentage of vote for a winning Democratic House member was 68%.  The highest percentage for a winning GOP candidate was 64% (not counting Boehner who ran unopposed).

I could go on, but...

The result is that the current crop of legislative nihilists have no desire to compromise and no need to.  They are from safe districts until 2022.

California re-drew their districts based on less partisan lines, using a citizen commission.  The result?  Incumbents went down to defeat, and perhaps not coincidentally, their delegation went from a 34/19 split to 35/15 with 3 too close to call, but the Democrats leading in all three.

In the end, probably the only way around gerrymandering is a constitutional amendment.

I have a hunch that won't happen.

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