For my day job I have the fortune of occasionally working with Greg Brown, the Sr VP of Government Affairs for the National Apartment Association. He recently wrote a blog post about term limits for Congress (he’s not in favor of them) and what might be done about gerrymandering, which he sees as the real problem with our political system right now:
The second part of my answer was to suggest that what is worth focusing our attention upon as voters is the process for re-districting in the states. This is a structural change that took hold in the last decade and, in my view, has contributed to the deterioration in problem-solving capabilities in Congress.
After every decennial census, the states undergo a redrawing of the lines for their Congressional districts. This is intended to respond to changes in population (some states gain seats in Congress while others lose seats), ensure compact, contiguous districts and perhaps keep local units of government within the same district. In practice, however, the process has been used by both parties to draw lines that create almost impenetrable partisan strongholds that virtually guarantee one-party control until the next decennial census. You know this process as gerrymandering and it has become increasingly easy due to improvements in technology and mapping. As a result, in at least five states the “opposition” has been relegated to just a few districts while the majority controls the rest of the state. Moreover, the only way majority incumbents can lose is to a primary opponent from their own party. This tactic has been used by Democrats in states where they control the legislature and by Republicans in states they control.
I prefer the approach that Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington have adopted which is to give the district drawing process to an independent or bipartisan commission. The goal is to reduce the impact of partisan politics. While far from perfect, it has to be an improvement upon what has been done in some of the 34 other states where the legislature draws the lines.
If the goal of “compact and contiguous” congressional districts is met through these independent or bipartisan entities then you typically have heterogeneous districts not solidly in one party’s hands. That can organically mean fewer extremists of either party. While it does not guarantee more moderates, it does increase the chances that the representative of that district must take into account a wider pool of perspectives than just those of his or her own party. Extrapolate that to Congress and you would have less polarization and more discussion to solve the big issues facing the nation. That should be something we all want.
I totally agree.