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Callin' It Quits

Gerrymandering an undeniable cause in current government shutdown.


Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Updated: Sunday, December 15, 2013 17:12

Gov't Shutdown

Photo in Public Domain

Article written as of Sunday, October 6th 2013.

The government has shut down, but it hasn’t shut-up. The rhetoric surrounding this shutdown (one in a long line of shutdowns) is in the finger-pointing stage. I would like to enter a third party into the fault-finding, gerrymandering.

It may seem like the Republican hardliners, who failed to pass an acceptable budget, are at fault. It may even seem that Democrats in the House or President Obama’s refusal to enter into negotiations are at fault. Indeed, some blame lies in various intensities on each, but the undeniable cause of this shutdown is gerrymandering.

The term comes from honorable Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who in 1810, repositioned districts to his advantage. The district, so convoluted it looked like a salamander, was referred to as gerrymander, and the term stuck.

Repositioning voting districts is a normal part of the democratic process. It ensures the districts are representative of the people as population shifts. Congress is required by the Supreme Court to redistribute periodically. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 encouraged grouping of minority communities to increase their voice.

Similarly, three voting districts in Nebraska are separated to prevent rural Nebraskans from being outnumbered by urban population centers like Omaha and Lincoln, split by liberal and conservative votes. A Democratic Republic in which representatives are elected by popular vote doesn’t deny minorities their representative rights.

However, when the representation of a state doesn’t match its popular vote consistently and Congressional seats do not change for decades, gridlock ensues. The kind that shuts down governments.

Which brings us back to finger pointing. Remember the small contingent of Republicans that refuse to allow a passed, signed, unrepealed, Supreme Court ratified law to go into effect?
Blocking this law is the jolt that blew Washington’s circuit. The President and Senate contributed to the shutdown by refusing to negotiate. Here is where gerrymandering comes in. They should not have to negotiate.

Audible gasp. I know, this statement goes against everything bipartisanship is supposed to mean, and America does need more compromise. However, a majority in the Senate that can block house budgets doesn’t need to negotiate on its only major sticking point. The Senate and the House have equal power; they were given that in the Constitution. Comprise means both should get a little of what they want, and a little of what they do not. No one party gets exactly what they want or else.

Gerrymandering has allowed the Republican Party to shut down the government. They can sacrifice something good for America overall, like having a fully functioning government, in favor of a hard stance. While this will likely have ramifications for the Republican Party, the government, and the populous, it will likely have little effect on these politician’s careers. The safe, gerrymandered districts they are supported by will continue to vote for them.     
If they were responsible to a more diverse group of voters, the Republicans would be more accountable for their actions. If gerrymandering were better regulated, or better yet, redistribution was charted by computers and non-partisan committees, both parties would be encouraged to compromise by their voting base.

Since the Supreme Court has been little help in gerrymandering cases, it is necessary to put pressure on lawmakers at the state level. Make changes and restrictions of gerrymandering referendum, up to popular citizen vote. The only way to foster in real bipartisanship and compromise is to hold legislators accountable for their actions - and not just to voters that easily agree.

Until then, the political rhetoric of our era is white noise.

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