Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Case Against Question 5

You may have noticed over on Facebook or in comment forums across the interwebs that a select few of the most partisan operators around are baying like cur dogs about the inequity! the unfairness! of Governor Martin O' Malley's recently released redistricting plan for Maryland's 8 Congressional districts. According to the Governor's commission on redistricting, 70% of Marylanders remain in their current district under the proposed plan, but that hasn't stopped the most rabidly partisan amongst us (and mostly Republicans at that) from screaming about the sheer partisanship reflected in the new redistricting plan.

It's been a long time since I've agreed with Republicans in Maryland about much of anything, but I agree with them about the purely partisan motivation of the redistricting plan. In an attempt to win seven of eight Congressional seats in 2012, the Democrats running the state have brought Roscoe Bartlett's Western Maryland district far down into that hotbed of liberal thinking, Montgomery County. The new 6th now includes Gaithersburg, Germantown, and portions of Rockville and its environs. The Washington suburbs are full of new immigrants of varying levels of legality, but are also chock full of well compensated and well educated DC commuters who, by and large, tend to vote for Democrats. These same voters have sent Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen to the House for the past five terms.

But truth be told, the changes in the 6th also create a much more competitive 8th district in which Van Hollen will likely have to compete against a credible challenger, and will actually have to campaign. More personally dismaying from my standpoint is that the new 1st district now extends further west than ever before, and some of the newly encompassed ground includes portions of Carroll County, northern Baltimore County, and a majority of Harford County. Carroll County citizens don't have a ton in common with Somerset County citizens, but that was not foremost on the minds of the Governor's Redistricting Task Force. They were willing to sacrifice ten years of inevitable Republican representation in the 1st for the sake of knocking off Roscoe out west.

Much as I don't support anything Andy Harris says or does, I don't necessarily want him to be summarily kicked from office because of a redistricting effort led largely by the other party. What I want are fair election districts, where a diverse array of candidates and ideas can be heard and where the election results are not preordained. This is where I differ from the GOP.

Maryland GOP leaders, which is something of an oxymoron given their permanent minority status, are calling the governor's plan unfair. Which implies that if they were in office, they would not be attempting the same type of shenanigans, which put the interests of partisan politics ahead of the interests of the people of Maryland. Of course, this is not the case. All over the country, Republican led states are doing precisely the same things, trying to finagle Congressional boundary lines for the sake of GOP advantage at the ballot box. There is no question that if the Republicans were in charge in Maryland, they would be doing exactly what they decry the Democrats for doing. No wonder 89% of Americans think that Congress is dysfunctional, we are represented by politicians who think first of personal ambition, then Party, and then the people, and always in that order.

Gerrymandering, the practice of altering Congressional district boundary lines in creative ways for partisan ends got its start by Elbridge Gerry (and as a side note, he pronoounced his last name similar to Gary not Jerry, so I am always sure to pronounce the word properly as garymandering, and not jerrymandering)who started this tradition as Governor of Massachusetts in 1812.

However, the lack of competition in our House seats is eroding the quality of our elected officials, and as such, is eroding the quality of our political debate. The vast majority of Congressional seats are now held firmly by one Party or the other, with incumbents virtually assured a safe seat as long as they care to serve. This only serves to create a House of Representatives full of the most partisan champions imaginable, whose commitment to ensuring gridlock is generally applauded at home, at the expense of progress and problem solving.

Some states have started to dabble with fair election rules, but only when the electorate clamors for genuine good government. As long as partisans rewrite the election rules every ten years, we will only ever have partisan driven redistricting. It is time to implement a truly fair system for holding elections, one where boundary lines are computer generated, with only population and regional equity as part of the determining formula. No more legislative districts that are only the width of a road in order to get to some select conservative or liberal neighborhood. The people should demand that their representation not be selected for them, if elections no longer matter, what else does?

I hope you will consider joining me in voting AGAINST Question 5 on the statewide ballot.

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