Close to 20 years ago Republicans began engaging in a long-range strategy to control Washington politics, and to a large degree they have been successful, even when they didn’t control the White House. They accomplished their goal by maintaining control over Congress for most of the last two decades.
It dawned on Republican operatives that if they wanted to control Congress, they needed to control the House of Representatives even more than the Senate, and the way to do that was to elect as many Republicans as possible to state representative and senate seats. The logic was simple: If Republicans held a majority in state legislatures they would be able to control the redistricting that follows every 10-year census.
While redistricting is supposed to reflect changes in population and ensure that everyone is fairly represented, the politicians in power at the state level draw districts to give themselves or their party an unfair advantage. So, instead of voters choosing the representatives, it’s now the other way around: Representatives get to choose their voters.
A prime example of the power of redistricting to affect outcomes is the case of Dennis Kucinich, whose congressional seat was virtually drawn out of existence. The former “boy mayor” had been a thorn in the side of Republicans for years, so after the 2010 census his 10th congressional district was redrawn, and a large part of his base in Cuyahoga County, ending up in Marcy Kaptur’s 9th congressional district, which started in Toledo. This was gerrymandering at its absolute worst and citizens lost a strong champion.
Additionally, minority voters are seeing their voting power diluted by lines that are drawn on maps. In a Maryland case in front of the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated,
“Using this map, the result is preordained…What becomes of the precious right to vote?” Indeed.
Good government groups such as Common Cause are leading the fight for fair representation at the ballot box, and at the grassroots in many states. In several states, redistricting reform will be on the November 2018 ballot. In California voters will get the chance to establish a non-partisan Citizens Redistricting Commission. Voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah are also considering measures that would end the practice of gerrymandering.
But here in Ohio, if we want fair outcomes we have to roll up our sleeves and elect state reps and senators that are more interested in fairness than they are in partisanship. That’s a tall order, but we’d do well to remember the old Thomas Jefferson adage: “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”
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