Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Charlie Cook on Safe Districts (and a Soc. Sec. Proposal)

Yet another call for changing our corrupt system of drawing legislative district lines... In his latest column, Charlie Cook wonders, "what are they smoking at the Ways and Means Committee, and does the Drug Enforcement Administration know?" The reason for his query is the proposal by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) and several other Republicans for "private investment accounts to be funded out of the Social Security surplus." That's right, the Social Security SURPLUS. This coming on the heals of President Bush's claims that the system will soon be in deficit.

Cook argues that politicians will never be able to convince the average voter that there is a surplus in the Social Security system (or, at least, one that's large enough to be used right now). He says Thomas and other Republicans (not to mention many Democrats) are simply out of touch with mainstream Americans because they reside in safe districts. I'll let him speak for himself.

The thinking that led to this proposal is a consequence of having members in safe seats who have not met a swing voter in years. Don't get me wrong; Democrats have an equal share of members whose actions make one wonder what planet they live on.

That said, it should not come as a big surprise that drawing such safe districts means that it takes mind-boggling misbehavior to even draw a credible opponent. Add a campaign finance system that is so imbalanced that incumbents typically face opponents spending less than $50,000 for the entire cycle, and members become insulated from having to wonder what an average Joe or Jane Citizen would think about a given solution.

While there are a number of factors that have led to the paucity of competitive districts, this episode makes California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's case for him -- recalibrating districts would help to recalibrate Congress. If there were fewer slam-dunk districts for each party, then each side would have to look over its shoulder a bit more.

As someone who loves to see competition and wants to see more hot congressional races, regardless of who ends up winning, I say bring it on!
And I say, Amen!

By the way, Cook points out that the average loss to the president's party in the last six "6th year" elections is 36 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate. (Of course, in the most recent 6th year election, in 1998, the president's party gained seats.) Numbers like that aren't likely to obtain next year given the precision with which district lines are now drawn. In fact, only a handful of districts will be in play in 2006. Hence Cook's call for "recalibrating" congressional districts.

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