Monday, December 30, 2013

Gerrymandering: the movie

By Bill Kraus

It is probably fitting, maybe masochistic, that I end the year watching a movie entitled Gerrymandering.

It is not new. It is not playing at a theater near you. It is a colorful summation of the purposes and results of gerrymandering over the years in many places.

The stars of the movie are Texas and California. The movie was made before the respective Democratic and Republican legislative majorities and their complicit governors had their way with the supine voters of Illinois and Wisconsin respectively.

The formidable Tom Delay re-mapped the state of Texas to give the Republicans six more sure seats in the U.S. Congress. In California the then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger led the fight for a referendum which removed the power to redistrict from the incumbent legislators who were, he pointed out, addicted to the power to gain advantage and preserve incumbencies.

The 77-minute documentary makes the points we are now familiar with with some interesting embellishments.

The embellishments first.

I don’t know or care if the first one is true or simply cited as a fanciful but possible outcome.

One of the political science scholars shown in the movie points out that a person seeking an assembly seat in one area in California has only to build his home adjacent to a very large prison which is occupied by the requisite number of residents. Since the felons in the prison count but can’t vote, the two residents of the candidate’s home can cast the votes required to elect him.

Less fanciful is the report that since the California anti-gerrymandering referendum was on the ballot at the same time of the Obama election which drew a disproportionated number of Democratic voters, the referendum nearly failed. Not because Obama opposed it, quite the contrary. He appears in the movie condemning giving the power to redistrict to the incumbents whom it is likely to favor. It nearly failed because the Democrats were in the majority in the California legislature at the time and they opposed this reform which was being urged by Republican Governor Schwarzenegger and the entire goody-two-shoes reform community led by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, AARP, and other less prominent groups that were on the side of the worthy but underappreciated idea of good government and voters’, rather than incumbents’, rights.

The movie gives an opportunity for those who favor leaving the power to redistrict to incumbent legislators the time to make their case. The weakness of their arguments--it’s always been done this way; the legislators are directly responsible to the voters and the bureaucrats are not--are eloquent exposures of the reasons the leadership of both houses in both Illinois and Wisconsin are using their extraordinary power to appoint and control committee chairs who do not want public hearings which would reveal that the opponents of a change in who makes the maps is purely and simply a case of defending the indefensible and advancing the contention that mapmaking itself is protected by their constitutions, which it is not. What is protected is the right to vote on the maps not on who makes them, which the Iowa solution to endemic gerrymandering, which the movie praises, does.

As noted earlier, Gerrymandering is not playing at a theater near you. DVDs are available on Amazon and at libraries, however, if you are as interested and as masochistic as I am.

And a Happy New Year to all.

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