How Much Is Too Much?

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A New Strategy Emerges

With four white Democrats losing their seats in Texas, Rob Richie predicts that by 2012, there's a very good chance that no white Democrat will be representing the state in the U.S. House. "The Texas gerrymander was 95 percent successful for the Republican party at least. They got almost everything they wanted, and it actually could get worse for Democrats in the next couple of elections, because they have very cleverly undercut essentially every white, Democratic incumbent in a way that, over time, could easily lead to a delegation that has only people of color representing Democrats, and maybe in only eight or nine seats, and then the rest, largely white Republicans. And it's part of a strategy that they seem to be pursuing in Texas, which is to play up the people of color party versus the white party. And as long as the state is a white majority, that seems to be an effective strategy for them."

But Phil King utterly refutes that there was any such strategy. Instead, he falls back on a tried and tested defence: that the Republicans were simply correcting the 1991 Texas gerrymander by the Democrats.

"All we had to do was undo the gerrymandered districts," says King. "So it was an easy process for us. We tried very, very hard to keep communities of interest together. That was the predominant theme. Where you could, you didn't want to split cities and counties. Where you could, you didn't want to split neighborhoods and voting precincts and things of that nature. So that was predominant."

But King always has one eye on the bigger picture. Namely, the power brokers in Washington. And for them, the Texas result proved crucial. "But for the redistricting done in Texas, there would have been a two-seat net loss in the U.S. House of Representatives. Because Texas did redistricting, there was a Republican net gain of four seats in the U.S. House."

In fact, so successful were Phil King and his colleagues, that some observers say the Republicans look set to control the U.S. House for a generation. Many Americans believe the principal danger to democracy lies in big business and powerful lobbyists buying influence with lawmakers. That explains the growing clamor for campaign finance reform. But there is this other threat to the democratic process, which gets far less attention. It's becoming increasingly clear that thanks to gerrymandering, in the world's most powerful democracy, it's the political class who get to call the shots instead of the millions who elect them. That, says Samuel Isaacharoff of Columbia University, should set off the alarm bells.

"I think that partisan gerrymandering is a menace to democracy in two senses. It corrodes the legitimacy of government by elected representatives, and it undermines the traditions of discourse, the liberation and common good that have long been the greatest achievements of democratic governments around the world.

President George W. Bush can look forward to a relatively trouble-free ride from the newly elected Congress-at least until the mid-term elections in 2006. Gerrymandering in the Lone Star State helped secure him a slim, but workable, majority in the House for years to come. But whether it's Democrats or Republicans stacking the deck in their favor, there's little doubt that the voters are short-changed in the end. And that's very far from what the founding fathers intended.

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