Friday, March 04, 2005

House Dems Shouldn't Follow GOP Lead on Redistricting

The Hill is reporting a split in the House Democratic leadership on whether or not to follow the lead of Republicans and redraw district lines before the 2010 reapportionment in states favorable to Democrats. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) is against doing so, as is Rep. John Larson (CT) who is running for vice chair of the Democratic caucus. On the other side are House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) and two other candidates for caucus vice chair (especially Rep. Joe Crowley [NY]). According to The Hill, Hoyer's position "appears to be gaining momentum in the caucus."

Pelosi and Larson are right. The short term gain to the Democrats of picking up a few (no more than about 5) seats is far outweighed by the long-term damage this sort of tit-for-tat battle would do to the system and by the lost opportunity for Democrats to capture the reform mantel.

Republican mid-decade redistricting efforts in Texas and Georgia were premised on change in legislative control since the 2001 redistricting round. They claimed that since the voters gave them control over the legislatures in those states, redrawing the district maps was necessary to reflect the new reality. It's a bogus claim, but one that would constrain Democratic efforts to do the same. In other words, Democrats could only "legitimately" try to redraw lines in states where they have taken legislative control since 2001. Those states are CO, NC, VT, WA, IL, LA, and NM. CO and VT are out because there's a Republican governor in CO (and because the state Supreme Court has already said it can't be done - Republicans tried in 2003) and VT only has one congressional district. That leaves NC, WA, IL, LA, and NM. An article from Roll Call a few days ago said Democrats are considering this move in IL, NM and LA. In the first two states, they think they can pick up a combined 3 seats. If - and this is a BIG if - they can gain one more in each of the other three states, that's a total of 6 seats. Is it really worth making a bad system worse to gain 6 seats? And Republicans would certainly move to redraw lines in other GOP controlled states, thus mitigating Democratic gains.

Perhaps the more important reason for not engaging in this petty retribution is that the Democrats have a golden opportunity to cement their image as the party of reform. The American public believes that parties and politicians look out for themselves first and only then think about the common good. By embracing redistricting reform, like that proposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in California, Democrats would be sending a signal to the voters that they put American democracy above short-term partisan gain. If they miss this opportunity, they'll lose any credibility they might now have in advocating other election reforms.


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