Monday, June 05, 2006 :::
The idea that gerrymandering has undermined political competition is not new (it's as old as the Republic). But the idea is brushed off once more and trotted out for discussion in this Washington Times piece. But the angle isn't so much that partisan competition suffers under gerrymandering. Rather, it's that ideological competition, and specifically between that rare beast "moderation," and it's more aggressive foe, the base, which have become nearly extinct in Virginia's political landscape.
It's something of a legitimate point. Legislative districts have been drawn so that primary races, when they occur, determine winners rather than general elections. And this, according to the political scientists quoted in the article, is why we seem to have such deep divisions between the House and Senate...because the House plays more closely to the base, while the Senate must play to a larger and thus more "moderate" constituency.
But is that necessarily so? Do we see the same sort of behavior in Virginia's congressional delegation? I'm not so sure. Granted, congressional districts are far larger than their HOD counterparts. But I don't believe we see any real difference in behavior, or in outcome. And as for the Senate...George Allen and John Warner may both be Republicans, but they have very real differences in their approach to governance.
I'm just not entirely convinced that gerrymandering at the state level has polarized the parties, or made the intra-party differences deeper than they might be under a different scheme. Instead, I think the problem, if that's what it is, arises not from the base one appeals to, but to one's concept of what the majority party should do with its power.
We see that happening to Republicans at the national level, just as we do here in Virginia. The differences are very real, and growing. Conversely, minority Democrats are more united and focused on a single goal -- regaining majority status. What will happen if and when they do regain the majority? The rifts within their own caucus will re-appear (recall that Ronald Reagan was adept at using the fractures within the Democratic party to achieve many of his policy goals in the early 1980s).
If that happens, will we see pieces like this one re-appear in the Washington Times? I'm not so sure.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 6/05/2006