Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The real battle is in the statehouses

While much attention is focused on the federal elections, a more profound change might be underway in state legislatures across the country.

Controlling the statehouses is important for two reasons. One, that's where the future leaders of both parties cut their teeth. Being in control means being able to point to a track record of legislative achievement. It's better practice for governing on a national level than being a perennial opposition party.

More directly, it's the state legislatures that draw Congressional districts after each census. Whichever party controls the statehouses in 2010-11 will be able to draw those districts to their advantage, cementing a decade-long advantage at the national level.

Right now the parties are almost evenly divided. Republicans control both chambers in 20 states; Democrats have that advantage in 19. They are virtually tied in the number of statehouse seats they hold.

If the Democratic wave at the national level is mirrored in local results, Democrats could be poised to take over a solid majority of statehouses. If they retain that control in 2010, it could redraw the political map in their favor.

To be clear, I think gerrymandering is terrible. I've written before about the need to come up with objective formula for drawing districts, and even discussed some proposals for doing exactly that.

So I'm not celebrating the idea of Democrats being able to gerrymander in 2010. But it's hard to overestimate the long-term significance of the local races.

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Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

At some point, Democrats are going to have to think about what to do if they do take control. A lot of the liberal partisans see this as a chance for revenge, ie, well, we will give them a taste of their own medicine. But this has to stop somewhere. It's clear that the political gerrymandering, while it may have been ok at one time, is making politics more poisonous by creating homogenous voting blocs. There is going to be a temptation if Democrats take over statehouses to gerrymander for their own benefit but they need to resist the temptation.

10/31/2006 2:15 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Agreed. I think there's nothing wrong with correcting past gerrymanders -- after all, they'd be crazy not to undo the geographic advantage that GOP line-drawers created. And you'll never take the politics out of it entirely. But a requirement that boundaries be drawn using some objective method, with only minor tinkering to achieve balanced population totals, would go a long way toward minimizing the effect of politics on the process.

10/31/2006 3:04 PM  

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