Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dirty Trick Districts

Virginia had been the stage for the latest battle for nonpartisan redistricting in the United States. The bad guys won again. The way they did it is illustrative: The incumbents strangled it in the cradle.

Despite the pleas of the business community, a House of Delegates subcommittee yesterday killed a proposal to establish a nonpartisan commission to try to take politics out of redistricting.

Critics said Virginia's current partisan process of drawing boundaries for legislative and congressional districts subverts the will of the people by making incumbency protection the main goal.

But Republican legislators said there is no proof that the current process has harmed governance in Virginia.

The 3-2 party-line vote in the subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee effectively killed the proposed reform in this session.

The defeat of Senate Bill 38 marks another setback for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who endorsed the plan, as did Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican.

"If on a nonpartisan bill like redistricting, the will of the [House GOP] leadership is 'we're going to kill this and we're going to kill it in a nonrecorded vote,' well, that sends a message about a philosophy of government and the citizens will decide if that is the right message or not," Kaine said.

Nonpartisan (or at least bipartisan) redistricting is a key to undoing the political tangle in America. It won't return the nation to some imagined state of original purity, but it will break up one knot in the democratic process of the nation America has evolved to be.

The reform has a healthy degree of bipartisanship, as the Virginia measure proved. Certainly the problem has been in place long enough that both parties have gotten muddy with it, and both have been bloodied by it. Neither one can be blamed exclusively for the 95% incumbent reelection rate in the U.S. House since World War II.

As this post, two years old but worth reading, this is not even an anti-partisan reform: The current overtilted field is partly the result of the weakness of U.S. political parties, on the state and local level.

As the courts seem to be the only hope for a reform of redistricting (look what happened in Virginia), and the president appoints or nominates key judges, the position of a presidential candidate on this question matters to me. But I cannot find out if the question has ever been put to the current crop. Anybody know?

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