A reader writes:
I disagree with the reader who claims that "there is no way to take the politics out of whatever district boundary decision is made." It becomes possible when you allow a computer to do it automatically without human intervention. Here, for example, is a website that generates new districts from existing schemes. And there are alternatives to having boundaries in the first place, such as multi-member districts and proportional representation (not that I expect any of these to catch on soon in the US!)
I was one of the finalists for the Citizen's Redistricting Commission, and I take issue with your reader's contention that the legislators should be drawing the districts.
That's an inherent conflict of interest; legislators draw districts so as to preserve their own jobs. Oh, they're legislators, so they're accountable? After they've drawn the districts to make voting them out nearly impossible? Please.
I live in the Santa Cruz area of California, where we haven't had a local representative since the last redistricting split up our area. Our current representative lives hundreds of miles away and never even visits the Santa Cruz area. This is representation?
Certainly it's impossible to draw districts to satisfy everyone. There will always be complaints from some group or other that their vote was diluted. But at least the process should be taken out of the hands of people who get a direct financial benefit from how they draw the districts. The people of California seem to agree, as the propositions to expand the power of the redistricting commission won by a huge margin, and the effort to destroy the commission failed by an equal margin.
I think this is an important step towards getting a little more sanity in government, and I hope other states follow suit.
So while most of the truly ridiculous district shapes are the result of manipulating the demographics of a district, sometimes the reasoning is explicitly political. Case in point: the Pennsylvania 1st, home of Congressman (and City Democratic boss) Bob Brady. The 1st isn't as bizarre as some of the shapes in PA, but one tiny piece, the S-shaped arm just above the "Philadelphia" dot, has a fun story.
As the urban legend goes (and we Philadelphians love our urban legends), that tiny arm of the 1st was added to capture the brownstone mansion of now-incarcerated State Senator Vince Fumo. Apparently, Fumo had toyed with the idea of running for Congress, and his home west of Broad Street would put him up against Rep. Chaka Fattah in the 2nd District. But the powers that be moved the line so Fumo would be in Bob Brady's district to keep him from running.
After all, no one crosses Brady, the Mayor of Capitol Hill.
As much as I enjoy the Daily Dish, this has been one of the few series of posts in which I am personally vested. I live in CA-24, which is Elton Gallegly's district. Like the first reader I, too, am pleased by the passage of Prop 20, though I share the latter reader's conclusion that redistricting will be every bit as "political."
But I take exception to the latter reader's claim that CA-23 (Lois Capps - D) represents a "community of interest." Your reader is obviously a political scientist, of the "data tells all" variety. But to borrow your reader's words, "that [claim] is absurd." The district was transparently gerrymandered to make my district, CA-24, safe for the long-term -- and systematically ineffectual -- Republican rubber-stamp Elton Gallegly, whose one legislative achievement in 24 years of congressional service was overturned by the Supreme Court.
CA-23 was drawn to put Oxnard, California (where whites are only 42% of the population and much of the non-white population is rural labor) and Port Hueneme, California (where whites are only 52% of the population) into a district full of upper-middle-class whites: Santa Barbara (75% white), Montecito (94% white), San Luis Obispo (84% white). Conveniently, CA-23 was also drawn to include all of the local 4-year colleges and universities, save one -- CA-23 gets UC-Santa Barbara, California State University-Channel Islands, and California Polytechnic, while CA-24 has California Lutheran University. So the one specifically "Christian" institution of higher learning goes to the safe Republican seat -- hardly coincidental, I should think. CA-23 splits the city of Buenaventura (AKA, Ventura) in half, with the "minority" half of the city in CA-23 and the white half in CA-24 (the Republican district).
Why gerrymander like this? Isn't it obvious? The minority/working class vote gets diluted into a district that is heavily white and upper-middle-class, but which is also full of beach community types ("hippies") and college students and faculty (all liberals, of course). That hardly constitutes a "community of interest."
Another reason to gerrymander in this way, of course, would be to avoid foisting on the Republican representative a group of constituents who might have desires or needs that run contrary to Tea Party ideology.
On the other hand, CA-24 was transparently gerrymandered to put all the presumably pro-Republican votes of the military into the safe Republican district, rather than make them "compete" with the more-populous liberal vote of the Santa Barbara coastal communities.
In this area we have four military installations: Vandenberg Air Force Base, Channel Islands Air National Guard Base, and two formerly independent Navy facilitiess, Naval Construction-Battalion Center Port Hueneme and Naval Missile Test Center Point Mugu. The former is training center of the "Seabees" and the latter is an aerospace testing center which also includes on its ground the Channel Islands Air National Guard base. Vandenberg AFB is still an independent installation, whereas the other three were all combined into "Naval Base Ventura County" at the last Base Realignment and Closure Commission round.
Like the city of Ventura, Naval Base Ventura County is split between CA-23 and CA-24. Capps, the Democrat, has in her district the Port Hueneme part of the base, where many of the personnel are trainees at the Naval Construction Training Center -- in other words, transient personnel who will graduate from Seabee training and move on to other assignments. Personnel who don't vote in California elections. Personnel in the permanent units assigned to the base, like the Naval Mobile Construction Battalions, live in surrounding parts of the community, the entirety of which is in CA-24, since the city of Port Hueneme itself is only 4 square miles in size.
The Point Mugu/Channel Islands part of the installation, on the other hand, goes to Gallegly, the Republican. These are "permanent party" military personnel, who live in the community, all of which (again) is in CA-24. In other words, they are military personnel who do vote in California elections.
Vandenberg Air Force Base, on the other hand, is 102 miles from Port Hueneme, in Lompoc, California, geographically well into the area covered by the Democratic CA-24. Miraculously, Vandenberg Village is just several hundred yards outside of the easternmost border of the 23rd district, safely in the hands of the Republican:
I don't know if a panel of "civilians" would necessarily ameliorate this situation, but I don't see that it could make it much worse. CA-23 is proportionally one of the thinnest, smallest congressional districts in the U.S. Nearly 46% of the registered electorate in this county is Democratic, but we have been "represented" in Congress for two decades by a tenured absentee landlord who speaks only at the Reagan Library and other safe conservative venues, who refuses to debate his opponents, who has for over 20 years waged a Quixotic campaign against "illegal" immigrants, who would lower the bar on death penalty prosecutions nearly to the level of absurdity, and whose most important legislative achievement - banning the sale of sex fetish videos that feature animal cruelty - while well-intentioned was (a) overturned by the Supreme Court and (b) hardly addressed an important issue of the day. Maybe I'm just foolish, but this doesn't feel like "representation" to me.
Thanks for letting me vent.