Get Thee to the Indiana Statehouse – TODAY [UPDATED]

Indiana

Despite all of the hard work done by the coalition working on Indiana redistricting reform–despite the recommendation of the Interim Study Committee and the support of Rep. Jerry Torr,  it has been an open question whether H.B. 1014  would even be scheduled for a hearing. But just yesterday–presumably in response to consistent pressure from hundreds of Hoosiers– the Bill was scheduled for a hearing. TODAY.

I’m told there will be a rally starting at 2:30 on the east steps of the Statehouse, and many people are going to the hearing from there. Indianapolis area readers: if you can go to either the rally or the hearing, please, please do.

In case you’ve forgotten why putting an end to gerrymandering is so critically important, if you have missed my multiple, repetitive screeds on the subject, I direct your attention to this article from yesterday’s Washington Post, which identified gerrymandering as the single biggest obstacle to restoring American democracy.

There is an enormous paradox at the heart of American democracy. Congress is deeply and stubbornly unpopular. On average, between 10 and 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress – on a par with public support for traffic jams and cockroaches. And yet, in the 2016 election, only eight incumbents – eight out of a body of 435 representatives – were defeated at the polls.

If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering – the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. It’s also one of a dwindling number of issues that principled citizens – Democrat and Republican – should be able to agree on. Indeed, polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all stripes oppose gerrymandering.

Thanks to gerrymandering, Congressional elections aren’t real elections in the vast majority of districts. As the Post article notes, a typical race in a gerrymandered district ends with either the Democrat or Republican (whichever party has been “awarded” that particular district) winning nearly 70 percent of the vote. (That’s a North Korea-style election…)

Competitiveness is so last Century….

Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states. That is not healthy for a system of government that, at its core, is defined by political competition….

These uncompetitive districts have a seriously corrosive effect on the integrity of democracy. If you’re elected to represent a district that is 80 percent Republican or 80 percent Democratic, there is absolutely no incentive to compromise. Ever. In fact, there is a strong disincentive to collaboration, because working across the aisle almost certainly means the risk of a primary challenge from the far right or far left of the party. For the overwhelming majority of Congressional representatives, there is no real risk to losing a general election – but there is a very real threat of losing a fiercely contested primary election. Over time, this causes sane people to pursue insane pandering and extreme positions.

The article concludes with a point I have made repeatedly: low turnout is not explained by voter apathy or even disinterest; it is explained by powerlessness–by voters coming to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that their vote no longer counts, that legislators are choosing their voters rather than the other way around.

Why bother showing up when the result has been preordained?

If at all possible, attend today’s hearing!

UPDATE [February 16, 2017 @ 9am ET]

Yesterday, Representative Milo Smith  demonstrated that Congress doesn’t have a lock on self-serving partisan behavior.

HUNDREDS of Hoosiers showed up at the Indiana Statehouse to support HB1014, which would end partisan gerrymandering. After a hearing that featured testimony from Republicans and Democrats alike, Smith–chair of the House Election committee–refused to take a vote.

That refusal was shameful and cowardly. The people who took time out of their days, who traveled from out in the state and demonstrated their support, deserved at the very least to know who on the committee supported the bill and who did not.

If you live in Indiana, please call Rep. Smith and let him know your opinion of this effort to avoid accountability. Also call Speaker Bosma, and tell him to support the hundreds of Hoosiers who showed up and demanded reform.

If we needed a reminder of why “safe seats” are so pernicious–how they allow “elected” lawmakers to ignore the public will–we got it yesterday.

[Originally published at SheilaKenneyd.net on February 15, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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