Wednesday, May 14, 2003

One-party rule

Has anyone in America grasped what is happening in Texas?

The Republican majority in Texas legislature is trying to force a mid-census redistricting of voters. Why does this matter?

There is a political tradition in America, started with the Progressives of the late 19th & early 20th centuries in an effort to reduce cronyism in the system, to redraw voting districts every ten years after each national census. The reason for this is to understand how the population has grown and where it is located, and then to divvy up voters into roughly equal sized districts for the purposes of national representation. Each Representative is repsonsible for a group of voters approximately the same size as any other Representative.

There have been cases where the courts have intervened to force a district to be redrawn because of deliberate efforts to dilute non-white votes, but otherwise the districts are done once every ten years.

The Republicans in Texas, under the instruction of the Republican-controlled Congress, are trying to force through mid-term redistricting in order to dilute Democratic party voters in potentially Republican voting districts, and to concentrate Democratic voters into fewer districts, the sum result of which is to artificially create "safe" seats for Republican candidates.

It doesn't take much. You only have to move maybe 1000 households in or out of a given district to shift the voting effects. Most elections are decided by less than a few hundred votes. The districts that result from this are "Gerrymanders" (Gerry - the name of the man who first tried this kind of redistricting, -mander, from salamander, indicating the strange, contorted shape of these districts) and cover the strangest bits an pieces of territory. Some look like octopi with a central core of voters and then long arms reaching out and penetrating surounding neighborhoods to gather in clumps of Republican faithful.

Now, let's be realistic - *both* parties will try, every ten years, to redraw the map in a way that gives them a small edge. However, that process is part of the regular political system, and the redrawing is done in public committees, with non-partisan oversight (doesn't always stop the results from *being* partisan), and with attention by the courts. The average voter has a fighting chance of being represented in a realistic manner.

This effort was done behind the scenes, and forced in the closing hours of a legislative session, to ensure that the districts would be in place for the next national election and guarantee the Chimp-in-Chief another rubber-stamp congress by making it impossible for the Democrats to vote their candidates into office. If done succesfully for this electoral cycle, they will try it across the country in the next.

The Republican party is trying to return the US to the conditions of the late 19th century, when politics was patronage, when the working class was destitute and brutalized, when people of color and women were non-persons, when destruction of the land was lauded, and when the interets of a monied elite crudely dominated the national agenda.

The very dangerous part of the social roll-back, however, is that this is not a laissez-faire government. Unlike the Gilded Age, when the national government was a very wimpy operation, there is a strong (and expanding) police apparatus in place. The IRS is being instructed to harrass the working poor. The "Patriot Act" authorizes intrusion into private lives for "reasons of security". Expressions of dissent are being labeled "un-American" (Hey, dudes, ever heard of founding fathers? They held dissent to be *sacred*.) and attacks on dissenters tacitly encouraged. The Administration simply lies, and shrugs off attempts to make it accountable for its actions.

So, less power in the workplace, less social support (kiss Social Security bye-bye, kids), less representative government, more intrusion and surveilance of your private life (the two-edged sword of the electronic age in action), more goodies form them that already has, and less for the majority of us who have barely enough or not at all.


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