Thursday, May 25, 2006

More from Eilperin: Redistricting

Just wanted to add a bit to the short post I did yesterday on the Juliet Eilperin "Fresh Air" interview, some excerpts from the transcript where she discusses redistricting.

"TERRY GROSS: You know, earlier you were talking about how you think not only has Congress become more polarized but the parties, particularly the Republicans, have become more extreme. And you talked a little bit about how loyalty tests and the whole reward-and-punishment system from the party leadership is kind of squeezing out moderates. You say that redistricting has also squeezed out moderates. In what way?

JULIET EILPERIN: Redistricting has a huge impact on how members of Congress vote. Essentially what you've had happen in recent decades is with frankly advances in technology, map makers have become much more sophisticated in terms of figuring out where Democrats and Republicans live. And shaping districts so that they can have overwhelmingly safe Democratic districts or overwhelmingly safe Republican districts. And what this does is, again, gives an edge for the people on the extreme edge of the ideological spectrum. If you have an overwhelmingly Democratic district, as a member of Congress running for office, all you care about is pleasing the most liberal members of your constituency. And vice versa for Republicans. And we've seen this happen time and time again where they create districts where members of Congress worry much more about competition in their primary election than on the general election. And as a result, the men and women who are coming to Washington tend to be much more extreme because they're really worried about a thin segment of the population but it's the segment of the population that's over-represented in their congressional districts.

GROSS: You know, one thing that I really don't comprehend is why is it that it's people from the parties who actually draw up the maps in redistricting?

EILPERIN: That's an excellent question.

GROSS: I mean, you would think that it would be impartial observers who would be, you know, looking at population change and redrawing the map. But it's not that way.

EILPERIN: There's a blatant conflict of interest there. And it's amazing that it doesn't get challenged more often. But, you know, that's the way it is in many states. There are exceptions to it. For example, one of the ideas I talk about is expanding on the New Jersey model, which is a bipartisan commission so you have Republicans and Democrats involved in the process. But then you have an independent tie-breaker in the case of New Jersey. They tend to go with an academic who tries to rein in the more extreme elements, and essentially both parties have to try and please this independent tie-breaker in order to come with the fair results.

Again, there are a few states that do have either independent commissions or bipartisan commissions. But for the bulk of states in the United States, the way it works is that you have legislatures or partisans who are doing it. And, again, for example, there is someone named David Winston, and he's a consultant here in town. And he's helped draw House districts for years. And he said, `When I as a map maker have more influence over an election than a candidate or a campaign, the system is out of whack.'"

For my prior Redistricting Watch posts, see here.


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