Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Gerrymandered House of Representatives

There is an excellent unsigned editorial in today's New York Times on the effort underway in Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature to pass right to work.  Parts of the editorial could have come from Workers World, a socialist weekly I've read for many years: "Concern for the rights of individual workers, of course, is not the real reason business is pushing so hard for these laws. Gutting unions is the fastest way to achieve lower wages and higher profits."

According to Monica Davey's front page story the pivotal figure in this fight is Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder who originally opposed right-to-work legislation as divisive but then suddenly changed his mind and requested last week that the legislature give him something to sign in a matter of days.  UAW's Bob King is quoted as saying that Snyder succumbed to Rightist pressure groups.  One can almost smell the sulfur belching from a Georgia Pacific smokestack.

Equally dispiriting in today's paper is Jonathan Weisman's story about GOP anti-tax purity in the House, which is based on rigorous gerrymandering.  This is the second time in as many weeks that Weisman has addressed the issue of how it is that Republicans in the House can be so out of touch with the national sentiment on raising taxes on the rich.  Polls consistently show that a supermajority want the wealthy to pay more and Social Security left alone, the exact opposite of the House majority.  How can this be?  Of the two houses of the United States Congress isn't the House of Representatives supposed to be the people's house?
House Democratic candidates won about 50.5 percent of the national vote in November, but took just 46 percent of the seats. In the last 40 years, only one other time — 1996 — did the party that won the majority of the votes end up with a minority of the House, said Nicholas Goedert, a political science researcher at Washington University in St. Louis in Missouri. Democrats actually gained two seats in the Senate.

Political scientists point to two factors influencing this divergence: a redistricting process dominated by Republican legislatures, and even more so, the concentration of Democratic voters in urban enclaves.

Gerrymandering did matter. In nine states redistricted by Republicans, the Democratic vote share was well above the percentage of seats won, Mr. Goedert said. For instance, in North Carolina, Democratic House candidates won 51 percent of the vote but only 27 percent of the House seats. Where Democrats drew the lines, in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts, Democratic House delegations fared better than their vote totals, but not as drastically. This points to an inherent advantage for Republicans. In closely contested years, like 2012, the concentration of Democratic voters in cities has put them at a loss — and given House Republicans little reason to fear national opinion.
In other words, the House has become another Senate — a block on the popular will.  With Citizens United the law of the land, a rural congressional district is chump change for a Super PAC.  I imagine the GOP can mantain its 30-seat House majority for quite a while.  Barring a radical shift our future seems certain to be some form of plutocratic dystopia.

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