The Outstater: Incumbency and Redistricting

February 8, 2018

“How could it be legal that the state government under the color of state power constrained by the due process obligations imposed on it by the 14th Amendment can openly discriminate against people in one party because they’re members of that party?” — Jay Yeager, an attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels, commenting on redistricting in The Indiana Lawyer

(For the use of the membership only.)

BRIAN BOSMA, more than three decades in office and speaker of the Indiana House, expressed doubts the other day about running for another term. It is suspected that David Long, with more than two decades in office and president pro team of the Senate, also has entered a period of agonizing reappraisal.

What great news. That is said not because Bosma and Long are unworthy of their office. But the lean toward sinecure isn’t the way democracy is supposed to work. Nor is democracy by itself what we are about. Democracy is a system of succession, not of governing. As such, it is only marginally better than the historic default of coup, assassination and war.

Our problem today is timing. The process is taking far, far too long. The elected cling to office with compromises and trade-offs to the ruin of the public good. We need them to risk their office on principle, stand up and be counted on the impossible issues of the day so we can make clear choices — that was the Founder’s design.

For things change, policy changes, the economy changes, we change. Nobody can wait for a Representative Bosma or a Senator Long to be fitted for just the right beach chair at Destin.

Before getting into any of that, let’s dismiss redistricting as any kind of solution. If anything, it is designed to create more Bosmas and Longs, to build ramparts around incumbency. We know that because of how the “reformers” always try to go about it — politically and not statistically.

The late Jim Knoop, a political professional par excellence, was snooping around in an attic of the Statehouse many years ago and came upon an old chalkboard. As he swept aside the cobwebs, he realized he was looking at a workup of a redistricting plan, one of the first in a long, unbroken string of failed efforts.

Knoop argued that if anyone were serious about redistricting they would start in one or another corner of the state and program their computer to create legislative and congressional districts that are mathematically identical, adding one citizen at a time, irrespective of voting pattern or geography.

Nobody, of course, is that serious. And in any case, Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight argues that lack of competitive seats can’t be explained by gerrymandering. He quotes a study finding that only 17 percent of the decline in competitive districts over the past 20 years has been the result of redistricting.

Rather, the states, counties and even neighborhoods from which districts are drawn have become less competitive all by themselves — pre-gerrymandered, if you will. “Voters are sorting themselves,” Enten says. “People are changing their political opinions to be more like their neighbors, and people are moving to regions where their political viewpoint is more common. This self-sorting means more and more areas come dominated by partisans.”

So we have met the problem, to paraphrase the cartoonist Walt Kelly, and it is us.

And the administrative state, as expressed in the fine print of Obama-era HUD grants, has a solution: Every neighborhood must be precisely numerically balanced for a range of social profiles, i.e., a transgender on the corner, a Native American across the street and an overweight middle-aged white guy at the end of the cul-de-sac.

But if you don’t want Washington telling you where and among whom to live, and you are too lazy to ring doorbells in the primary to help challenge the sitting professional politician, there is another solution.

Let’s form a new party — call it the Pogo Party. We will treat incumbency as a disease and vote against anyone exposed to it, including officeholders we otherwise like. And should we happen to win office, we pledge to vote against ourselves.

That should speed the process along.

— Craig Ladwig


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