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Wednesday, August 21, 2002


In a political demonstration of the principle of regression to the mean, the two extreme ends of Georgia's congressional delegation – Cynthia McKinney (D-Saudi Arabia) and Bob Barr (R-Neptune) – were lopped off in primary losses yesterday. This promises less entertainment and perhaps better governance.
However, the real story behind both losses is not a return to voter seriousness in serious times but that what redistricting giveth, redistricting eventually taketh away. Barr and McKinney both got their seats after the last round ten years ago, when suburban Republicans and black Democrats cut a deal that divvied up the state into nine GOP seats and three Dem – although it took some court decisions and redrawings over four years before McKinney's district could be reliably safe for her and still pass the Voting Rights smell test.
For ten years, the remaining white male Democrats in the state legislature fumed and bided their time. Last year they struck back, in perhaps the finest piece of partisan gerrymandering in recent memory. With a new seat to play with due to population growth, they somehow managed to come up with seven Democrat seats and six for Republicans. One way was by combining Barr's district with John Linder's, so two incumbent representatives had to face each other in a political death match; the other was by diluting McKinney's base of urban-school-educated demogogue fodder below the 60% lock-in threshold.
Two consequences: if the Democrats retake the House this November, Speaker Gephardt will owe a significant debt to Mistah Tom Murphy of the Georgia General Assembly and the four-seat swing he engineered and massaged into being. Second, although the extremest right- and left-wingers lost this time, the mechanism that it took to accomplish that will lead to increasing polarization down the road. In the newly combined Linder/Barr district, there was no Democratic primary because it's a waste of time and money to run. Majette's opposition will be token, at best, against someone who got into the race to take on Cynthia and suddenly finds herself facing a moderate. In the new 13th carved out of McKinney's and John Lewis' districts, there will be no Republican candidate in November. Not good news for democracy in the long run.

Forget the sham of campaign finance reform – want to change politics for real? Start thinking about districting reform. Why is the House more partisan, less representative of the people, less small-d democratic and small-r republican than the Senate? Because politicians draw the boundaries, not geography, which essentially circumscribes who's electable. As Sun Tzu says, Choosing the battlefield determines the battle.

posted by Kelly | 11:48 AM link