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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Tom Delay and the Ungrateful Gerrymander

Tom Delay is thinking, as have many demagogic pols before him: darn that stupid "democracy" thing!

Yet another central tenet of the original Progressives was an intense "direct democracy" populism. The Progs effected two major changes to the political system: the addition of initiative and referendum to many states' electoral laws (so that citizens could vote directly on laws instead of acting only through representatives), and direct election of U.S. Senators (who previously had been appointed by each state's legislature).

I'm generally a fan of representative rather than direct democracy, because I've lived in states where, in recent times, the initiative process has empowered demagogues more than citizens. The indefensible Supreme Court decisions giving corporations the same free speech rights as humans, and holding that spending money to influence elections, even dishonestly, is "speech" protected by the First Amendment, need to be corrected if direct democracy is to keep functioning as the Progressives intended.

But the larger concept of "power to the People" is as central to the American experiment, and to the Progressive legacy, as anything can be, especially when it comes to how elections themselves are organized and conducted. Fair, unrigged elections so that real people have real voices: good thing. Gamesmanship and gerrymandering that disempower real people but ensure that incumbents can remain in power: bad thing.

Former House Speaker Tom Delay (R-TX) oversaw a concerted effort in 2003 to redraw Texas' Congressional districts several years before such a redistricting was scheduled, in order to ensure the election of more Republicans. It was an exercise in raw power, purely partisan, and it changed Texas' electoral landscape in a major way. Texans, some may be shocked to learn, have a history of being fairly bipartisan: they tend to vote Republican for President, but they've elected Democratic governors and Congressmen. And that, of course, was anathema to Delay, so he and the Texas Republican Party redrew the districts to dilute Democratic votes and ensure Republican victories. Wherever there was a largely Democratic district, they expanded the adjacent conservative districts so that the Democrats became a minority in the new districts instead of a majority in the old one. That's "gerrymandering."

Now, I'm pleased to see, Delay's machinations may be biting him back. Delay's in serious legal trouble for violating Texas election laws (in 2003, same nefarious enterprise), he's been forced to give up his House leadership post, and now even his reelection is in trouble. Why? Because in his old district, there were almost no Democratic voters. In his new, gerrymandered district, there is a minority of Democrats -- not many, but enough that, joined with moderate Republicans disgusted at Delay's lack of morals, they may be able to defeat him at the polls next November.

Sweet irony, sweet justice, sweet Schaudenfraude. This is one of the glories of the American system: every time someone thinks they've succeeded in gaming the system entirely, their own actions eventually pull them down. We're far from perfect, but this part of the system does work. Thank God. Not for partisan reasons, but because Americans, and Neoprogs, really do want democracy and not merely the pretense of it.


Blogger wet pants said...

Unfortunately you get the horns of a dilema.

While it is pushed that the Delay did bad by re-districting, you could undo his margins where he will lose. And yeah, things have changed since this happened, but re-redistricting could give him a margin of win (no one ever claims that wingnuts are rational).

Though I will be the first to say that he totally gerrymandered the districts.

1/12/2006 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Marti in New Mexico said...

I remember when the Texas Dem Legislators fled to Albuquerque to withold a quorum, and Delay tried to send Homeland Security after them, our Dem "guv-who-would-be-prez" threatened to retaliate by prematurely redistricting New Mexico so that no Repubs could ever be elected to Congress again.

I've never understood how redistricting is done, much less how it should be done. How would a neo-progressive do re-districting?

3/04/2006 1:36 PM  

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