Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Few Thoughts about Tuesday's Election and What the Next Two Years Will Bring

Let's start on a cheerful note. It's hard to be too down about an election in which I received the highest number of votes in my own race, so let's start with the Village of Wolverine Lake results:

--John A. Magee, 923 (4-year term)
--Linda Champagne, 858 (4-year term)
--Pamela Kaznecki, 780 (4-year term)
--Brian Nedrow, 748 (2-year term)
--Ron Cumbo, 662

It's truly an honor to have been the top vote recipient both times I have run for a council seat.

Like any politician who did well in his election, I shall now claim a mandate.

I believe that the outcome of our village election reflects an expression of confidence in the way that I have led the village for the last four years. I've tried very hard to keep our focus on facts and solving problems; to ensure that as a council we work well and respectfully among ourselves and with the village employees; and to improve our relations with our neighboring governments, so that we can get more done together. I think that approach has been proven to work for the betterment of the village during a very difficult time, and that my vote total above is a statement from the village residents that they want me to keep on the same path.

And so I shall continue to work to solve our problems with courteous, civil, fact-based governance.

At a state level, I'm not sure I've got a lot to say right now. It was a total Republican sweep of the governorship, the state house, a supermajority in the state senate, and the state supreme court. As you all know, I'm a Democrat and have expressed some pretty sincere doubts about the math and the lack of detail that most of those Republican candidates used during the campaign. Our state government in Michigan has been bitterly gridlocked for the last decade as deep partisan differences kept us from seeing real action on the huge problems of this state. Now we'll get to see if the Republicans can make it work, since they have 100% control of the mechanisms of government.

I truly hope they can make it work because this state is in dire need of improvement. I wish them well.

Where I'm most discouraged is at the national level, where all I can see coming out of this election is two years of bitter partisanship. And so there, rather than taking on detailed analysis of the races, the exit polls, the electorate, etc. -- and haven't enough Internet electrons already been sacrificed those topics? -- I'd like to write a bit on why I'm so glum about what I think we'll see for the next two years.

I think there were two things that really, truly mattered during this election:

1) Republican moderates took a severe beating from Tea Party candidates during the primary season, while moderate Democrats took a severe beating at the polls on Tuesday. As a result, it looks to me as if very few genuine moderate votes will be left in the next Congress, while both party caucuses are going to swing heavily towards their base for the next two years.

2) Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity" was by far the largest political gathering and rally of the last year. Three days before the election more than 200,000 people showed up on the Washington mall, most of them in support of this "political" position: "We're tired of our elected representatives putting their partisan battles ahead of fixing the genuine problems in this country." And then we went out and elected the most bitterly partisan and extreme Congress of our lifetimes.

So what happened? And why -- if we can accomplish civil, reasonable, fact-based governance in Wolverine Lake, Michigan -- can't we seem to accomplish the same things at the state or federal level? My own two cents is that while the 24/7 "news" cycle and vast gobs of unregulated campaign cash have worsened the problem and need to be fixed, the root of the problem in Congress stems not from whom we choose to represent districts. The root of the problem lies in how we draw the districts themselves.

As redistricting methods have grown more sophisticated the gerrymander has greatly contributed to increasing partisanship and extremism in legislative bodies at the local, state, and federal level. This happens because sophisticated gerrymanders carve out a large number of "safe" districts in which the real election becomes the party primary that selects the safe party's candidate.

Why have moderates disappeared from Congress, state legislatures, and county boards? The gerrymander is the mechanism that has squeezed them out. Lawmakers who are no longer are accountable to the center of the political spectrum have stopped responding to the center of the political spectrum.

When a single party controls the gerrymander they carve as many seats as possible for themselves by putting the opposition party in overwhelmingly safe districts while carving out a larger number of districts that lean in their direction. (That will be the case in Michigan, for example, where the Republicans will be able to unilaterally draw all of the federal and state districts because of their victories on Tuesday.) When control of redistricting is split between two parties, the overall number of seats that go to each party is more balanced; however, incumbents on both sides carve out as many safe districts as possible for themselves. Again, this greatly increases the number of legislators who need only appeal to their party's base to win a primary election. Either way, moderate lawmakers are squeezed out as moderate districts are eliminated, and what used to be a substantial swing vote needed to pass legislation has mostly disappeared.

The replacement of so many "blue dog" Democrats with Tea Party Republicans on Tuesday doesn't bode well for the restoration of moderation and civility in the House of Representatives. As for the Senate, since Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said immediately after the election that the top priority of Senate Republicans would be the defeat of Obama in 2012, I think I can safely forecast two years of bitter partisan gridlock their.

In a country with as many important problems as we have, I wish I could say that I expect both parties to sit down together, work with the facts, and find practical solutions to our problems. Sadly, I have absolutely no expectation of anything other than two years of partisan wrangling and posing in anticipation of the 2012 Presidential election.

Worse yet, I expect most of the tattered remnants of American journalism to engage in two more years of verbal cockfighting instead of factual reporting. The gerrymander may have killed the moderate bloc in Congress, but cable "news" dug the grave and cheered the firing squad. And yes, the entire shindig was funded by vast uncontrolled, unreported, untrackable gobs of money donated by special interests whose only interest in the system is their own benefit, no matter what the cost to the rest of us.

In two years one party or the other will lose, but what I fear is that in the two years until then, all of us will lose as real problems go unsolved.

Not a very cheerful thought, I suppose.

But maybe it gets us to the heart of our problems. Our biggest problem as a nation right now isn't a matter of who is winning or losing elections. Our problem is that our electoral process itself has become badly damaged by gerrymandering that leaves the majority of Americans feeling that they aren't represented by the outcome of our elections. We need to fix a broken electoral process if we expect to elect politicians who will focus on fixing our problems. In the next few weeks I'll try to have a few more thoughts on how we can go about fixing that problem. Because it damn well needs fixing.


  1. In 1911, the number of Congressmen (as they were all male) was 435. There were 93 million Americans. Each Congressmen represented roughly 214,000 people. There are now 308 million Americans and 435 Representatives, each representing roughly 708,000 people.

    The UK has 61 million people and Canada has 34 million. They have 650 & 308 Members of Parliament (in the House), respectively. The ratio of MPs to population is along the lines of 1 to 100,000. All three of these Anglo-Saxon democracies have a first-past-the-post, winner-take-all system that skews results in their respective "parliaments" away from being truly representative of a single party's strength.

    It seems to me that American democracy could benefit with the addition of -- oh, say, another 200 or so members of Congress. This artificial limit on the number of Reps. has the effect of LESSENING democracy. Smaller districts would negate gerrymandering to a degree and certainly return a Congress more representative of the population at large.

  2. Methinks this solution may be a bit like solving a plague of locusts by adding an additional 200 locusts.

  3. I think Jon's talking moderate locusts here...