What Happened to Short Terms Equaling a Voice for the People?
David S. Broder has written an article for the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41304-2004Nov10.html - free registration required) that is at once fascinating and disturbing. The article documents how the House of Representatives has been set up to be a haven for incumbents. This year, excluding Texas, 99% of incumbents were returned to Washington. Please note that I say "returned", not elected. It is an important distinction.
David points to Representative John Mica, a 61 year old Florida Republican, will return for another 2 year term without receiving a single vote! Shocking? Yes. Criminal? No. You see...no one ran against Rep. Mica. In Florida, if you are running unopposed with no one notifying the state that they intend to wage a write-in campaign, you are automatically reinstated to serve in Congress.
But why would no one run against Representative Mica? Was it that everyone in his district thought he was clearly the best man for the job? Certainly someone had to feel (foolishly or no) that they could do a better job? It is downright undemocratic and unamerican to let someone run unopposed. I mean...insert sarcasm here...isn't that why the Republican Party dragged Alan Keyes to Illinois to run against Senator-Elect Obama?
Well...he ran unopposed most likely because of the composition of his district. You see...if his district is heavily Republican or votes heavily Republican (there is a difference between the two in FL, as per the presidential election results)...the Democrats could be inclined to concede the seat and not waste money on a campaign.
Across America, thirty other seats in the House of Representatives were similarly decided without anyone challenging the incumbent. THIRTY SEATS!?!?! THIRTY DISTRICTS IN AMERICA HAD NO CHOICE TO MAKE!!!
Why? Because of gerrymandering/redistricting. Let me give you the basics.
Each state has is split up into a number of districts equal to the number of seats they have in the US House of Representatives. The state legislature (with their own senators and representatives) basically have control of where the lines are drawn for each district. From time to time, when one party has a significant power advantage over the other in the state legislature, they attempt to re-write the districts in an effort to give them the best chance at easily KEEPING that power or INCREASING their power in US House of Representatives. Forgive me if I oversimplified.
So...a district that is an even mix of REDheads and BLUEheads gets the line shifted to swing it to a clear majority for the party that is in power at the time. Now, with a district that has a clear majority that votes or is registered Republican, a Democrat might think twice about spending their time running.
Now back to the 99% rate of re-election outside of Texas. Maybe you're wondering, "is Texas so much more enlightened than the rest of the country?" Sadly, I wish I could say that was true.
Think back to over a year ago when you saw reports on the news about Democrats from the state legislature of Texas having left the state of Texas to avoid a vote for redistricting. The Republicans in power were endeavoring to gerrymander their way to a shift of power for their party in the US House of Representatives. They wanted to redraw their districts to give Republican challengers a much better Republican base for their attempts to bounce the Democrat incumbents.
And it worked.
Republicans took three out of the five seats they had aimed for. Power to the people? If, by the people, you mean a group of wealthy land owners (be they Republican or Democrat), then sure...that is what it is.
We don't elect people to spend time changing districts in an effort to be able to retain their job or get their cronies a job. We elect people to represent us. Isn't it bad enough that the people who are supposed to SERVE & LEAD spend more time trying to insure they get re-elected than trying to see to the rights and welfare of their people?
I urge all of you who read this to contact your representative in their state legislature and make sure they know that you don't want them wasting taxpayer dollars spending time on redistricting. It doesn't matter if they're doing it for your team or against it; it is counterproductive to a free, democratic and representative government.
There is no legitimate need that can only be served by re-districting that outweighs the potential voter disenfranshisement that can occur due to gerrymandering.
While you're at it, make your feelings known here by commenting on this or any other post. I look forward to getting to see where your thoughts are on these and other subjects. Don't hesitate to e-mail me, as well.