Tuesday, July 9, 2013
HOW SHOULD OUR REPUBLIC RESPOND TO GERRYMANDERING PRACTICES?
We properly respond to accusations of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, and sex. These required heroic efforts. The woman’s movement in the United States was chiefly due to the leadership in the 1800s of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and many other women inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft and others a generation earlier. It took until 1916 for women to get the right to vote. It took a Civil War to end slavery and a constitutional amendment to give African Americans the right to vote but it took almost a century more for those African Americans to earn the civil rights of the white among whom they lived, including their legal right to vote. Religious discrimination was severe during the Colonial era and remained so into the nineteenth century with lots of discrimination against Catholics (“Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” as a campaign theme during the 1896 Presidential election). It was not until 1962 that a Catholic became President of the United States. I recommend reading an old classic of Gustavus Myers, A History of Bigotry in the United States. It was published in 1943 shortly after he died. The term gerrymander was introduced to describe the practice of drawing a map of an electoral district that would favor a political party or an incumbent during election. Both Democrats and Republicans have enjoyed this practice which is usually carried out every ten years, following the latest national census. The assumption is that it evens out in the long run for Democrats and Republicans because the issues change every generation. Remember the Dixiecrats, as liberals called the 1950s southern Democrats, who were then rabidly racist and did their best to keep blacks from voting and who thought Jews had horns on their foreheads, and that the Pope was a minion of Satan? Many of them and their children now vote Republican. This portion of the Republican party does not share the Republican values of Senator Javitz of New York, Wendell Willkie of Indiana, Nelson Rockefeller, or even the conservative values of Senator Bob Taft of Ohio. I mean they favor the far right agenda of Creationism, suppression of women’s rights to make medical decisions about their bodies and families, homophobia, unrestricted laissez-faire capitalism, and a virtual dismembering of social services for those who are not fortunate. Those gerrymandered districts are designed to keep those likely to vote Democrat from voting. Who are those feared Democrats? They are largely the poor, African-Americans, Hispanics, union laborers, and college students. By making it as difficult as possible for them to vote and by drawing election district boundaries to pull them out of districts that tend to vote Republican or that are in toss-up districts, the local candidates (US House of Representatives, State House districts, and State Senate Districts) can be made safe for at least a decade and more likely even longer. When a State has solid majorities in all branches of the government, watch out for the “tyranny of the majority.” This applies to both parties. I would like to see a national movement for a people’s initiative to put initiatives on the ballots of all states to pass restricted gerrymandering laws. There are lots of ways to do this. When Utah was admitted as a state, the governing body created districts by assigning households to one party if they lived in odd numbered street addresses and the other party was given the even numbered addresses. We use such methods for “rationing” gasoline during a crisis (license plates with odd numbers get their gas on M W F and even numbers get theirs on T TH S). One way would be to create a grid for each state, each square being a senatorial district. Congressional House Seats could be decided by a panel of judges chosen by lottery to evaluate complaints of discrimination because of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, or age. I’m sure political scientists could work out such an initiative to be placed on state ballots. Why should we put up with this self-serving interest by politicians instead of forcing candidates to debate important issues in their districts and allow a fair unbiased representation of all the people in a state?