Gerrymandering – Recipe for Uncivil Behavior in the Beltway

We all remember when Joe Wilson, Republican from South Carolina’s 2nd district, shouted “You lie” during President Obama’s 2009 health care address to Congress. And now, at a recent jobs summit in Inglewood, California, Maxine Waters, Democrat from California’s 35Th district, said “the Tea Party can go straight to hell”. Is this the way Americans want their congressmen and women to act?

Surely this type of uncivil behavior would result in the offending congressmen getting booted out of office. Not exactly, Maxine Waters carried her district by a 79% margin and Joe Wilson carried his by 54% in the 2010 elections. Unfortunately, these congressmen represent districts of homogenous views and generally are elected year after year, as long as they don’t commit a felony. Their districts have been gerrymandered. The term gerrymander dates back to 1812 Massachusetts, when Governor Gerry created geographic districts to help his party. One district’s shape resembled a salamander. Joe Wilson’s district, the heavily Republican 2nd South Carolina, stretches from Hilton Head north to, but not including, Columbia, the state capital. The neighboring 6th district geographically looks like Fat Albert with a pencil thin neck with Columbia representing the head. The 6th district is chock full of Democrats and elected James Clyburn by a 63% margin in the 2010 elections. While the Republican 2nd district almost completely surrounds Columbia, the city itself is in the Democratic 6th district.

I believe Gerrymandering is one of the root causes of the impolite and bitter politics we witnessed during the recent debt ceiling debates. Opposing sides feel so comfortable that “the folks back home love me”, that they feel they don’t have to listen to the opposing party. As a result, compromising for the greater good is becoming increasingly hard. It is desirable to elect strongly principled congressmen, but they need to work together in a respectful manner. I now live in Michigan and have voted mostly Republican over the past twenty years, crossing over when it made sense to do so.

The Republicans now control the state, and consequently control the re-districting. The proposed redistricting map is gerrymandered beyond belief, creating safe districts for Republicans and, by default, safe districts for Democrats.

District 11 looks like a backhoe with its arm extended and in the bucket would be Bloomfield Hills, a community of million dollar homes occupied by Republican auto company execs. District 14 looks like an upside down backhoe with its bucket containing Pontiac, a lower to middle class community composed of mostly Democrats. The arms and buckets of the two backhoes are convolutedly intertwined with a third district, District 9. District 9, at one point being a few hundred yards wide when it separates the other two districts, is a “tossup “district.

If Congressional districts were more compact, it is likely that Pontiac and Bloomfield Hills would be represented by the same Congressman/woman. What would be wrong with that? Each party would have a fresh batch of prospective converts to work on and would have to expand their platforms to include wider varieties of issues. Also, the Congressman/woman would be less likely to tell someone to go to hell or call them a liar. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Metro Detroit's proposed re-districting plan.

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