Thursday, March 02, 2006

Crybabies in Texas

If we can step away from all of the smoke and mirrors involving Tom Delay for a moment, the true impetus behind Texas Democrats' concerted efforts to destroy him is laid bare as their challenge to the Republicans' redistricting plan is argued before the Supreme Court:

''The only reason it was considered, let alone passed, was to help one political party get more seats than another," the justices were told by Paul M. Smith, a lawyer who represents the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the groups challenging the plan.

''That's a surprise," Justice Antonin Scalia joked. ''Legislatures redraw the map all the time for political reasons."

But Smith said lawmakers should not be able to get away with drawing oddly shaped districts that protect incumbent Republicans and deny voters their chance to vote for other candidates.

They shouldn't?

Imagine the impact on American electoral politics if the redistricting maps that were drawn by the party in power were suddenly illigitimized, solely because the drawers had as their goal Incumbency Protection, i.e., preservation of numerical advantage!

Why, let's just look briefly at Massachusetts -- home to Elderbridge Gerry, the venerable politician whose redistricting exploits gave rise to the term "Gerrymandering."

Here's a look at Congressman Jim McGovern's Third Congressional District. As some may recall, McGovern's employment prior to his election was with Rep. Joe Early, an old Democratic war horse who was pals with Speaker Tip O'Neil and Rules Chairman Joe Moakley. Early was one of the check-bouncers at the now defunct House Bank, and lost his re-election campaign to my old friend Peter Blute. (Early's explanation has gone down in the annals of political bloopers: "They gave me a book of checks. They didn't ask for any deposits." ) Blute was the first Republican ever to win this seat, but he was able to hold it for only two terms, as the Democrats in the Masachusetts House redrew the district to remove some republican households and add some democratic strongholds, and their union buddies did the rest on election day.

Apparently, the Massachusetts Democrats weren't happy with 9 of 11 seats being theirs (the other Republican, Peter Tolkildsen, also lost in the same election cycle, returning the Democrats to 100% occupancy of the delegation).

Another striking example of redistricting chicanery is the current district of Rep. Barney Frank, a Newton arch-liberal whose (first-term) seat migrated severely south when, in another notorious redistricting battle, the Massachusetts Democrats combined a portion of his seat with that of eight-term Republican
Peggy Heckler, forcing Heckler to run against Frank in unfamiliar democratic territory:

In 1982, in Frank's first try at reelection, the Massachusetts Legislature threw Frank and another incumbent, Republican Margaret Heckler, into a reconfigured district that included not only Frank's liberal strongholds in Newton and Brookline but also the blue-collar city of Fall River.

Can you find Barney's hometown? It's that tiny little area at the very northern tip. It is a 45 minute drive to his furthest constituents in Somerset.

So, as I think it was quite clear to the Justices, the fairness of partisan redistricting all depends on whose ox is being gored. As Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz stated to the Court, "Republicans were only fixing a map that had been drawn to benefit Democrats, despite the fact the state has more Republican voters. "

The real question to ask these hypocrites is, would they favor taking the redistricting process entirely out of the legislature's hands, and handing it over to an independent commission, like that proposed here in Massachusetts? Maybe they would call their fellow Democrats here in Boston and encourage them to support the measure?

As I've said before, "we good government types aren't holding our breaths."

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