Friday, June 30, 2006

House Party

Bruce Reed gets it very right when it comes to Congressional dysfunction. Some in the more creative segment of the rightwing have long demonized the Senate (and it's damnable Moderate/RINO tendencies) and called for term limits there. I think Reed's piece lets us know we need to start thinking about that with the House, maybe more importantly for the House, given its recent shenanigans and the Supreme Court's celebration of those in one of its earthshattering rulings.

In the House, DeLay launched an unprecedented and successful effort to redraw congressional districts year after year to maximize partisan advantage. If DeLay had gone on to the Senate, he no doubt would have tried to rewrite state boundaries every few years to achieve the highest possible number of red states.

The Supreme Court's refusal this week to overturn the DeLay gerrymander in Texas suggests that another firewall has fallen. From now on, both parties will feel compelled to take the same politics that has brought down the House to every state capital in America. Instead of doing the job people elected them to do, state legislators will spend all their time fighting over how to write safe congressional districts so that members of Congress don't have to do the job people elect them to do.

Redistricting was at the root of DeLay's downfall, and may well be at the root of Washington's as well. In recent years, redistricting has made districts more polarized, homogenous, and friendly to entrenched incumbents. Competitive districts in which incumbents actually have to earn re-election are becoming an endangered species.

Reed's piece is smart because it takes the basic political science conceptions of the House (more partisan, more shrill, more polarized) and marries it to our problem of everlasting incumbency. He also, wisely, discusses Tanner (D-TN)'s efforts to end gerrymandering with Congressional legislation even though the effort went down in flames. Several other reforms are discussed, like making the House seats all at-large and sending them home and having the House run in an e-government fashion with many, many more representatives. No matter what your chosen experiment is, Reed paints a good picture of how broken the House is and how we need to get out the power tools if we hope of making it any better in the future.