The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Saving Democracy – Intro

Saving Democracy: Congressional Representative Districts Drawn By Independent Commission

(Editor Note: This is the third post in a series on renewing the institutions of our federal government and democracy to ensure that it will endure. Looking at trends today with data, analysis of the present situation and recommendations for changes. Todays post focuses congressional districts being set by an independent commission not legislators. )

Sources: North Carolina General Assembly, Kontretykieta.com – NC Redistricting 2016

The next census count of the population of 50 states is to be completed in 2020, with states losing population or gaining population being forced to redistrict their Congressional Representative districts.  Southern and Western states like North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Virginia, California, Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado are likely to gain seats.  Northeastern and Midwestern states like Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota plus Alabama and West Virginia are likely to lose seats.

The redistricting process must be completed by the time ballots are printed for the 2022 election. Only 6 states use independent commissions of equal representation of each party and varying numbers of independent non-partisan members. The other 44 states use some form of state legislature approved redistricting. The legislatures are given the power to establish congressional districts by the Constitution.

Source: Wikipedia – 4/1/19

Does it really make sense to have the foxes running the hen house?  All states have partisan legislative bodies (except Nebraska), the majority party ensures that they can dominate the next congressional election by gerrymandering the state district map.   Legislators should not be deciding who voters vote for, voters should be making that decision.  In North Carolina, General Assembly Republican, Rep. David Lewis said, “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” of a map plan passed by the legislature in 2016. When voters went to the polls that fall, 10 GOP representatives won seats, while only 3 Democrats were elected yet the GOP only won 53 % of the popular vote  Now this redistricting issue is before the Supreme Court to be decided later this year. Other states have been in and out of federal courts including Maryland and Wisconsin for redistricting violations based on party affiliation. State legislatures have a long undemocratic history of creating poll taxes for ethnic groups they didn’t like or discriminating against minorities by placing them in loaded districts away from their logical geographic location.

Let’s safeguard from partisanship the most important of democratic institutions – voting, by ensuring that voters will be located in diverse districts from all political points of view.  Congress needs to pass a law requiring all states to institute Independent Commissions to draw congressional district maps.   Maybe if we had more representative districts candidates would offer more compromising positions, so when they go to Congress they might just learn to work together and do what’s best for the people not corporations or the Elite.

Saving Democracy: Renewing Our Government Infrastructure v2.0P

Source: editorials.voa.gov

“We can’t have an economy that works for all if we don’t have a democracy that works for all.” TPE, Editor, Patrick Hill

By returning political power to the people then economic opportunities can be once again be made available to all.   Why is this reform and rebuilding effort important? Because the people don’t trust their government.  If citizens don’t trust their democratic institutions to do the right things for them, they will turn to demagogues who use hate, fear, divisiveness, pride, and power to weld control over the people to gain wealth and power for themselves. Here is a poll from NPR/Marist on the trust people have in various forms of U.S. government:

Sources: NPR, Marist – 1/17/18

Congress comes in dead last of all the major institutions, with the Military first and the Supreme Court second (though as the court becomes more politicized this level of trust may change). The Presidency under our present POTUS has not helped in terms of trust, since he was not elected by the majority of people falling almost 3 million votes short and then proceeded with policies that only appeal to his minority base. People inherently believe the majority person or policy should win. In our 2016 presidency election the majority candidate did not win, so the majority opinions are not represented in the Executive branch. The Executive branch starts out with a lack of support, trust or mandate to govern. Our government by the people for the people and of the people can only survive if people have trust in their government. What is even worse is the level of confidence Americans have in their government to handle international or domestic problems has dropped significantly:

Source: Gallup – 1/31/19

One month after the 9/11 tragedy the American public rallied around their government and leaders to provide protection and bring the perpetrators to justice.  Since 2001, the confidence the public has in their government to handle problems has declined to a 18 year low.

One reason trust is so low is the government actually does not represent the people when it comes to passing laws in accordance with citizen opinions, needs and condition.  Professors Martin Gilens, at Princeton, and Benjamin Page, at Northwestern examined thousands of opinion poll surveys from 1981 to 2002, and grouped them based on the top 10 % in income versus the bottom 90 %.  Then, they reviewed 1779 policy proposals versus the opinion surveys and found the elite saw 76 % of their opinions reflected while the general public only 3%.  Special interest groups gained 56 % of their positions reflected in policies. It is little wonder that the general public is frustrated with their federal government.

Democrats, Republicans, and Independents need to step back a moment, or a year and think about our democracy first and their policies second.  The most salient aspect of politics since the 1980s is the ascendency of corporations, the wealthy and special interest groups gaining and sustaining power in Washington supported by both major parties. At the same time wages for the working class and 80 % in income have basically stagnated on a real wage basis. Our government needs to work for everyone: conservative, liberal, immigrant, native born, poor or wealthy.  We need more government processes focused on building consensus rather than the predominant government, Internet and media processes fanning the flames of division. Division is freezing our ability to move ahead and even look ahead 10, 20 or 30 years to solve problems before they become too immense to solve without great loss of life or economic damage. The fact that we cannot seem to make the right legislative, corporate decisions or encourage environmental sound citizen behaviors to save our planet is evidence enough of the breakdown of our democracy to solve real problems. Are these problems solvable? Yes, but only if we work together bringing the genius of our diverse people to focus in effective ways to solve those existential issues we face. There are so many narratives that are disconnected, people talking past each other. We need to connect the narratives and arrive a one narrative that the majority of Americans can support on each major issue.

Our next post: will focus on voting, the heart of our democracy.

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