Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Penny for Your Thoughts: Redistricting

I got home a few hours ago from my Town Democratic Caucus tonight and one of the biggest subjects that came up was congressional redistricting. Swampscott is part of the 6th Congressional District, which is more or less the entire North Shore. The district's one of the most cohesive across the entire state, both in terms of geography and demographics, so of course it's one of the most likely to face outright contraction. At least, that's the speculation going on amongst the pundits -- and the chatter I keep hearing from people much closer to the process than I am. That got me to thinking about redistricting itself -- and what would make sense for the Commonwealth.

The problems of our current system of redistricting are really two-fold: First and foremost, we're held hostage by a reapportionment system dramatically redesigned in 1929 that no longer makes sense today. Back then, 435 Congresscritters decided to 'reform' the process, protecting their own jobs, but barring emerging immigrant communities in urban areas from gaining adequate representation. The result has been widespread corruption in the redistricting process, as well as drowning out voices among ever-larger congressional seats, which has led to vast increases in the power of corporations over regular people in our political process.

More pressing both in time and location is our state's flawed process of redistricting. Some states allow the judiciary to create the district lines, or a nonpartisan committee, but in most states -- including the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts -- it's done by the most powerful of politicians behind closed doors and has been the source of much corruption in this state and elsewhere.

In Massachusetts, where the Democratic Party is prominent, but wishy-washy, redistricting has generally been a tool to protect incumbents (even Republicans). In states like Florida and Texas, where party registration is traditionally a pretty equal mix, but one party has been much more successful in gaining electoral power, redistricting has been successfully used to hack at the minority in nearly every sense of the word. (So blatant was the corruption in Florida that its citizens actually just passed two constitutional amendments to rectify their problem, though their new Republican governor is trying to ignore it.)

This leaves us all with two fundamental problems: How do we deal with the immediate and local issues surrounding redistricting, and how do we address the long-term problem of the Reapportionment Act of 1929? Districts shouldn't be drawn as an incumbent protection racket here, or as a blunt-force weapon to attack minorities elsewhere. They should be drawn to make sense both in terms of geography and demographics, ensuring districts are representative of the people who live in them. And we shouldn't be beholden to the number 435 in a day and age when that number no longer makes any sense.

So, a penny for your thoughts: How do you think districts should be redrawn in Massachusetts, where we're going to lose a seat, and how do you think we should change our system of reappointment, both locally and nationally?


MiddleboroReview said...

I'm hoping to see some constructive suggestions from your readers proposing solutions that make more sense than the status quo.

It has already been discarded that an independent panel accomplish the re-districting in the Commonwealth.

Barney Frank's district, as you know, was gerrymandered to keep a Republican incumbent in office.

Middleboro was divided to have 3 state reps. that successfully rid the town of a Republican no-show incumbent, but created other problems with being combined with dissimilar districts.

Across the country, some of the gerrymandered districts are bizarre, to say the least and, as you point out, disenfranchise minorities.

Anonymous said...

The 6th district currently needs about 70K people to make it to 728K, the mandated MA amount post the 2010 census, so expansion, rather than contraction, of the district will occur.

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