A staggering statistic ought to spur thought about political reform of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the election that just concluded, all 435 seats in the House were up for election nationwide.
And of all those seats, only 22 were rated on Election Day as toss-ups between the two major parties by the Cook Political Report, for many years the leading national analyst of House races.
Many of the toss-ups were won by Republicans, as it definitely was a Republican year, yet the reality is that the number of even remotely competitive races was small in the House.
That is because of manipulation by both parties.
A party dominant in a state will draw district lines to favor its own candidates, particularly incumbent members.
In the early 19th century, that was dubbed gerrymandering, after an early master of the dark political arts. It is now the norm in most states, including Louisiana.
Reformers are trying to change that and have been successful in about a dozen states, putting in place rules that ensure fair district lines are drawn every 10 years after the census.
The rules require that districts be as compact as possible and be drawn without regard to party affiliation or residences of incumbent members.
The results don’t always ensure competitive races, but the reforms in states like Iowa and California are vastly better than the political gamesmanship that’s now standard practice.
A number of experts assembled by LSU’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs considered redistricting reform one of the ways to fix today’s dangerously polarized politics.
In a handbook for new members of Congress, called “Working Congress” from LSU Press, several experts and former members of Congress identified the problem of gerrymandering as one obstacle to a more effective U.S. House.
“Partisan redistricting makes liberal areas more liberal and less amenable to compromise with conservatives, and it makes conservative districts more conservative and more resistant to working across party lines,” wrote Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. “Combined with closed party primaries and sore-loser laws that largely restrict ballot access to those who have won the endorsement of the most partisan in their own parties, redistrict completes the driving of the stake through the heart of bipartisanship.”
Of course, the same problem applies to legislatures — the state bodies charged by the Constitution with drawing lines for the national legislature.
A reform measure for Louisiana would and should include requirements for nonpartisan redrawing of district lines for the Senate and House of the state Legislature.
One problem for reform: the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which has been amended and interpreted over the years to require minority-majority seats.
What has been found in other states is that Voting Rights Act regulations can be part of a nonpartisan plan for redrawing district lines.
Our Legislature should embrace reform as progressive states elsewhere have done.