The cure for legislative gridlock

November 11, 2012 

If there is one issue the major political parties can always agree on is redistricting -- at least in this respect. If Republicans control the state house when it comes time to change the district lines delineating the areas local, state and federal officers will represent, their prime objective is not to ensure that the “one man one vote” principle is upheld but how to maximize political power.

Ditto for Democrats.

The process is one of the main reason there is gridlock in the House of Representatives. Our lawmakers have been elected from districts where the majority of the electorate reflect their own political ideology. There is no need to compromise. There’s no need to listen to other voices because the echo of their own voice is enough to get them re-elected.

Thirteen states, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington have said there is a better way. Twelve of the states have turned over complete control of the redistricting process to groups other than legislatures. In Alaska, the governor appoints two members. The president of the Senate and speaker of the House each have one appointment as does the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Here is an interesting twist. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “At least one member must be a resident of each judicial district.” And none can be a public employee or official.

California adopted, by way of Proposition 11 four years ago, a commission selected by lottery from a pool of 60 registered voters. The commission must have five Democrats and five Republicans and four independents. Arkansas only has a three-member commission while Missouri has separate committees for the House and Senate totally 28. Two states, Maine and Vermont, utilize advisory commissions and five states employ backup commissions. In Iowa the legislature still votes on redistricting plans, but the nonpartisan legislative staff develop maps without using any political or election data. They don’t even have the addresses of the incumbents.

At least these states see a better way. Sure, Georgia has the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office, but it’s stacked with partisans. It’s time for Georgia to begin the conversation people under the Gold Dome don’t want to have. The present system, no matter how dysfunctional, is working for them, but if we continue down the same path -- moderation and compromise -- will disappear from the legislative lexicon.

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