EQUAL OPPORTUNITY DICE LOADING
Gerrymandering. The word is a self-contained inkspot test that does Dr. Rorschach proud. Like the blotch I see as Mount Everest when you see Death Valley and a randy kid sees a Katy Perry wardrobe malfunction, it suggests different things to different people. So who is Gerry, and how did he inspire a nasty word in one of mankind’s most fertile breeding grounds for nasty words, American politics?
Gerrymandering is complex and controversial, but its definition is straightforward and accepted across the political spectrum. It’s the practice of manipulating electoral districts to favor a political party or interest. We often see insertion of the word Republican or Democratic in front of the word, i.e. Republican Gerrymandering or Democratic Gerrymandering. I think we cheapen a legitimate issue of flawed human nature by relegating it to the cesspool of party politics.
News flash No. 1: Human beings are prone to seek advantage, and sometimes unfair advantage, in competitive situations. Golfers kick balls out of the tall cotton. University recruiters exaggerate their institution’s virtues, and trot out different pitches for parents (terrific academics and convenient chapel) and kids (co-ed and no curfew).
In politics, candidates glibly make promises they can’t keep or have no intention of keeping. Parties enlist amoral verbal contortionists as spokespersons: We have wings … they sport horns and pitchforks. We are good … they are evil. We are smart … they are clowns.
Enter Elbridge Gerry, the early 19th century Massachusetts Governor for whom the practice of gerrymandering is named. Ironically, Gerry’s alleged lie-cheat-and-steal routine was on behalf of the Democratic-Republican Party, which was opposed by the Federalist Party. It was 1812: Even in the midst of a British invasion, and with the White House in flames, politicians found time to load electoral dice.
Is gerrymandering real? You bet. Is it a Republican problem? Absolutely. Except when it’s a Democratic problem.
News flash No. 2: Parties in power rarely shy away from using or abusing that power. Truth has its place, but is readily stretched by pols focused on ends rather than means. “Elections,” President Barack Obama famously reminded Republicans, “have consequences.”
I live in Ohio’s 7th Congressional District, represented in the House of Representatives by Republican Bob Gibbs. The seat was once held by now Governor Mike Dewine, and you could say that Ohio’s 7th is “reliably Republican.” Arthur Aleshire, the last Democrat to hold the office, died 79 years ago. In fairness, the 7th’s footprint has changed a lot over the years, but the point is fair. Partisan politics is the name of the game.
News flash No. 3: Truth be known, neither party really wants to level the playing field.
Ohio’s 7th includes four counties and portions of six more. The district meanders all the way from Lake Erie to Ohio’s geographic center in Knox County, then turns east and finally north to Canton. The map fairly screams “Gerrymandered!” I acknowledge the possibility it was Johnny Walkered, but if so the drunks knew what they were doing.
So, are Democrats right when then call gerrymandering a Republican problem? Republicans controlled the latest redistricting of Ohio and North Carolina, which has been called the most gerrymandered state in the country by the Washington Post. But Democrats were at the controls in Maryland, WaPo’s pick for No. 2 in the gerrymander hall of shame.
Of the 10 worst states as identified by WaPo, Republicans had a 6 to 3 edge with the 10th apparently engaging in bipartisan gerrymandering. For the record, the red states named by WaPo are North Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Alabama. Blue states are Maryland, West Virginia and Illinois. Gerrymandering is also evident in purple Kentucky, with ample blame to go around.
Right or wrong, true believers at extreme ends of the political spectrum will always believe what they believe. But I think, and believe most open-minded people will agree, that gerrymandering is a human problem. If the party in charge can get away with it, they will gerrymander.