Redistricting and Gridlock
Is there a correlation between legislative gridlock and the performance of Representatives who hail from highly gerrymandered districts?
In addition to any ideological territory in which an elected official may stake a claim or whatever deference may be owed to campaign contributors, I believe that the gerrymander process is a contributing factor to narrow points of view and reduced legislative focus. While no adequate measure may exist, it follows that fewer issues of concern are the logical (albeit extreme) end result of the years of application of the redistricting process. Political contenders are eager to identify groups with easily-identifiable interests to which they can hitch their political futures. Making a district’s voting population more identifiable, providing incumbents with a majority of voters who have similar ‘issue-interests’ (through constant re-districting), has resulted in voting districts where diversity in issues, opinions and points-of-view has been excluded — simply by virtue of a boundary line decision. Many district’s potential for vigorous issue-diversity is crushed by the process of drawing lines on a map so as to capture the weight of one or two assumed voting characteristics. While this may make staying elected somewhat easier, what is the real-life result of this process, especially in instances where those boundary lines are periodically drawn by the same party? Overall community concerns become completely ignored in favor of allegiance to the issues of importance of narrowly-defined voting blocs. A further consequence of drawing tortured district boundaries is the promotion / election of ‘single-issue’ type Representatives, those who manage to own the one or two issues that matter. Narrow focus begets limited negotiation opportunities, which I believe ultimately feeds the legislative grid-lock that appears to characterize our lower chamber. These ‘single-issue’ Representatives don’t have to play well with others. Their limited portfolios and range of issues make them less likely to negotiate and more likely to be intransigent about the few issues they do own.
Have some legislative districts become so homogeneous that their constituents’ views and issues of importance have been reduced to one or two constructs? Have the lines for creating voting districts, aimed at the inclusion of and addressing the concerns of single-issue blocs, been so ‘expertly’ drawn that issue-diversity within an individual district no longer exists? ‘Single-issue’ legislators, who have only a narrow agenda to reflect from their base, may not have room for or interest in legislative negotiation, the give-and-take that is at the heart of the operating process of rulemaking.
Do those legislators who represent larger and more diverse districts tend to govern more effectively because they must consider a wider range of interests and issues ‘back home’? I’d posit that the men and women who represent a varied base of constituents are those who get things done. The more voting blocs one has to represent, the more driven one is going to be to seek positive outcomes over a wider range of issues – while not an absolute, Representatives from more issue-diverse districts should be more effective legislators, hearing more (read varied) voices from their districts. To those voters who view life from the far right or left, these issue-diverse Representatives may look like centrists, even more so when they are juxtaposed with the one-trick ponies that represent districts holding homogenized views. Wider focus and an appreciation for multiple issues does not equate to loss of principles or imply that those Representatives will not be able to hold dear to whatever values (left, right or center) they espouse.
Maybe it’s time for all us to really consider the importance and ultimate consequences of how we draw those lines on maps, casting an eye towards creating boundaries that represent real communities? Perhaps it is time to turn to a model where those who hold office are, by virtue of true community representation, forced to represent a wider range of constituent groups and their concerns – hearing all groups of voters who live in recognizable (real) geo-political entities. Representatives from these ‘real’ districts, effective in the performance of their duties, will be forced to faithfully negotiate across a range of diverse issues, allowing the intended processes of negotiation to work, reducing legislative gridlock.