You know something's fishy when two guys on opposite ends of everything come together with a common mission. But that's exactly what's happening right now with Chris Fitzsimon and John Hood both singing the praises of some recent baby steps on redistricting. Distressed by the lack of competitive races in North Carolina, the two pundits have jumped on the redistricting bandwagon with all four feet.
From the left:
That’s why the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, the folks who brought you lobbying and ethics reform(on which more needs to be done) is now trying to change the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn, to take them out of the hands of the politicians as much as possible. The Coalition believes that districts should be drawn by an independent commission. The easiest way to explain this idea is that politicians shouldn’t choose their voters, voters should choose their politicians.
It is not as far-fetched as you might think. Several states already have an independent redistricting commission, appointed in various ways. In most instances, the commission’s plans are submitted to the legislature for an up or down vote. Lawmakers can’t amend the plan. If they reject a plan, the commission tries again.
From the right:
Entrusting the power to draw district lines in an independent commission can be accomplished in a variety of different ways. Our Coalition is not yet committed to any particular design element, such as the way commissioners would be appointed. Nor is a commission a sufficient condition for reforming the system, because what we also need are clearly defined criteria for ensuring fairness and defining a compact, comprehensible set of coherent political communities. An effective commission will need to rely on criteria that are largely numerical, minimizing discretion and reducing the potential for subsequent litigation (though the prospect of litigation cannot, and really should not, be entirely precluded). And we should keep in mind that even in the states with independent commissions, redistricting can still be problematic.
There is no perfect way to draw political boundaries. What we can say for sure is that the current system is deeply flawed. It’s time to start a broad, statewide conversation about what to set up in its place.
The politicians recruited to stand out front on this independent commission are Bill Cobey and Tim Valentine. They've been blitzing the airwaves recently, pushing for sanity in a world gone wild with political power.
Though I wish them the best of luck, I don't hold out much hope. Because gerrymandered districts are only a tiny part of a much bigger problem: the corrupting influence of money in politics.
When a guy like Art Pope can throw a few hundred thousand dollars into electioneering and tilt the outcome of legislative races, something is very, very wrong. When Congressmen spend more than half of their time raising money to run for re-election, something is very, very wrong. When 527 organizations can pour thousands of dollars into House races without disclosing their contributors, something is very, very wrong.
Hood and Fitzsimon aren't focused on the money problem because it's just too hot to handle. There is not middle ground for reasonable discussion. Hood thinks elections should be bought and sold like pork bellies, the natural extension of his free-market fantasies. In John's muddled mind, the measure of a candidate's worth is a function of how much money he or she can raise to buy influence with potential voters. It's a model in which the wealthy have a structural advantage over everyone else, which is why he's is so fanatical about it.
Independent redistricting is only one piece of the puzzle, and hardly the most important. Public financing of elections has much more potential to level the playing field so that money and connections aren't the sole determinants of political power. Establishing reasonable term limits for elected officials could also have huge positive impact on furthering good old-fashioned democracy.
But don't expect to see left and right coming together on these issues. Because the idea that rich old white men might lose some of their clout is unthinkable to the rich old white men running the show these days.