April 12, 2024

self-perpetuating system

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Our self-perpetuating system
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – One little-noticed but important outcome for Democrats in the latest election results is the impact on the redrawing of congressional districts that will occur after the 2020 election and census.
          How those lines are drawn will determine everything from the allocation of political power to the distribution of federal resources to the states.
          With every statewide elected office in Virginia plus the two-state legislative chambers now in Democratic hands, it will be a challenge for Democrats to remain committed to the bipartisan, citizen-led commission they called for when Republicans were in charge.
          The GOP didn’t heed those calls, and Virginia’s map for decades was gerrymandered to favor Republicans. Now Democrats should step up and stand for fairness, however tempted they might be to seek vengeance.
          The creation of absurdly configured districts to give one party an unfair advantage got its name from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 authorized the drawing of a district that looked like a salamander to gain partisan advantage and was dubbed a “gerrymander.” Gerrymandering is a self-perpetuating system because a party holding statewide power can draw voting districts to retain that power.
          In Kentucky, the apparent gubernatorial winner, Democratic attorney general Andy Beshear, was the only Democrat to prevail statewide in a state that backed Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 30 points. It is appropriate for Democrats to read omens for 2020 into Beshear’s victory, although Republican Governor Bevins’ loss was more about him and his unpopular policies (undermining Medicaid expansion and cutting teacher pensions) than the national mood.
          It is a major victory for the Democrats because one of their own will be in the governor’s chair to veto any gerrymandering the Republican-led legislature might produce after the 2020 election.
          Complicated and poorly understood, gerrymandering is the culprit behind much of the unfairness in our political system. Both political parties do it, but Republicans have done it more ruthlessly and more effectively to gain a partisan advantage in the wake of their electoral wins in 2010.
          In that election, two years into President Obama’s first term, Republicans added 63 seats in the House of Representatives, seven Senate seats, and six governorships. They flipped 20 legislative chambers from Democratic to Republican, handing the GOP the power to gerrymander. Obama called it a “shellacking.” It was also a gerrymandering.           Another form of gerrymandering was codified in the Constitution when the Founding Fathers decided that every state regardless of size would have two senators. They did not anticipate the population disparities that would evolve, but had political parties existed at the time and some astute Republican foresaw Democrats flocking to the East and West coasts, that person would have been the driving force behind the nationwide gerrymandering that exists today. The move literally disenfranchised millions of Democratic voters by giving Republican voters in states such as Wyoming and Montana two senators when their small populations only warranted one representative.
          There are currently seven states in this mold and after the 2020 census, the number is expected to increase to nine.           Do the math, and you can see how both the Senate and the Electoral College (which is based upon a state’s number of senators and representatives) gives less populated states greater sway than states like California and New York. Millions of votes are cast in those two coastal states that do nothing for a Democratic nominee. They are surplus votes just like votes in gerrymandered local districts that contain large majorities from one party. That’s the whole idea of gerrymandering. Pack as many people of one persuasion in one place to prevent them from having an impact in many places.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2019 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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