Friday, February 3, 2012

Texas’ Outrageous Redistricting | Casey's Last Word

Ned Lee of San Antonio wrote a thoughtful e-mail about the current redistricting mess in Texas.

He argues that the State of Texas is using an outrageous excuse to defend, in a Washington D.C. court, the fact that its election map doesn’t add any congressional districts that are likely to elect minorities, despite the fact that minorities make up about 90 percent of the population growth that gave us four new congressional districts.

Yet he sees very few people outraged by the outrageous defense.

“Citizens rage about Washington and career politicians, and demand term limits and say, ‘We should throw the bums out!’” he says.

“But every controversy is viewed through a lens that only sees liberal vs. conservative. Thus the redistricting is challenged on the basis that it is unfair to minorities.”

The outrageous defense, he says, is that those who drew the lines weren’t discriminating against minorities.

They were only helping the incumbents and the party in power stay in power.

“To me, districts that are explicitly drawn to re-elect incumbents infringe on the rights of everyone, in the same way that districts explicitly drawn to elect Anglos infringe on the rights of minorities,” he wrote.

He sees the current scheme, accepted as something that both Democrats and Republicans do when they are in power, as an infringement on the fundamental “right to choose representatives in free and fair elections.”

He’s right, of course.

We should all be outraged that politicians -- who already have the advantages of office, including the ability to raise large amounts of campaign cash -- can rig elections to keep themselves in office.

If Pepsi and Coke divided up territories the way Democrats and Republicans do, people would go to prison.

An Hispanic public official in San Antonio, who asked not to be named, told me he would love to see a constitutional amendment mandating a process in which computers would be used to maximize – not minimize as is currently the case – the number of competitive districts.

He understood that it is highly unlikely that we will ever see such a constitutional amendment.

Ask Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures to give away some of their power to hold onto office?

We might as well ask a scorpion not to sting.

But there are some things we can do.

State Senator Jeff Wentworth has long pushed for a state law that would put the drawing of districts every 10 years into the hands of a bi-partisan panel, as a few states have already done.

It would take much of the more naked power politics out of redistricting.

A couple of times he has managed to get the Senate to pass his proposal, though I suspect that some senators voted for it only because they knew it would die in the House.

But this year things have gotten so out of hand that it may be a good time to press candidates for a commitment to support a proposal such as Wentworth’s.

It’s not outrageous to suggest that our officials should serve the electorate – not the elected.

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