Monday, October 7, 2013

How did we get in this shape?

Currently, all you hear on radio and television or read in the newspapers is about the shutdown in Washington, D.C.  Almost universally citizens are condemning members of the U.S. government for being unable to compromise.  Using Texas as an example, only a brief inquiry sheds some light on how we got where we are with our national government.

Tom DeLay, who rose to prominence as a great leader in the Republican Party, added to his stroke with his ability to raise and distribute money.  DeLay was able to raise tubs and tubs of money because of his strategy in which movers and shakers in Washington--i.e., lobbyists--were persona non grata and unable to exercise any influence unless they paid allegiance to the Republican Party via DeLay.  DeLay got in trouble in Texas for laundering $190,000 in corporate money and using it to elect a wholly Republican House of Representatives. In spite of DeLay’s recent claim that he has been fully vindicated for his conduct, one must look askance at the overturning of his conviction since it was largely based on the fact that he only manipulated corporate checks and not "cash money."  Nonetheless, DeLay was successful in persuading a newly elected Republican majority in both Houses to reapportion the state into legislative districts which clearly tilted the state further to the right.

DeLay’s redistricting plan came not the session after a census but a couple of years later, which is completely out of step with what had been the tradition in Texas.

The apportioning of legislative and congressional districts, according to long-standing case law, requires that districts, insofar as is possible, be equal in number to assure one man one vote, be compact, and be considerate of a community of interest for each district.  The Republican reapportionment of the State of Texas into congressional and legislative districts mainly concerned itself with packing minorities and Democrats into districts--creating even larger majorities for Democrats in those districts--and assuring more, safe Republican districts throughout the state.  The problem is that this means each district no longer is a microcosm of the population of Texas; instead, each district is simply a conglomeration of ideology, left or right.  Having such districts offers no incentive whatsoever for the persons elected from those districts to consider any ideology but one.

Again, the result of those redistricting efforts prior to the court intervention clearly demonstrated a gigantic effort to assure a political outcome in each district, not to assure fair representation for a geographic area.  Senate District 4 was emasculated when Port Arthur was attached to a district which began on the Northwest side of Houston, stretched to the coast, ran across an area of Chambers County with no people in it, and then reached up and took in Port Arthur.  The picture of Port Arthur’s new Senatorial District under that plan could serve as a definition by picture rather than word in the dictionary of gerrymandering. Another word for it, coined in an article on the redistricting mess a couple of years ago, might be "perrymandering."

A second reason for gridlock and the lack of compromise is the increasing phenomenon of lower voter turnout.  While minorities notoriously have a low turnout, it appears from recent elections that the remaining voters are less inclined to vote than in past elections.  If you combine this with the Republican efforts to discourage voting through such means as shortening times for absentee voting, requiring voter I.D. and similar provisions, it appears lower voter turnouts will be the rule rather than the exception.  It is not conducive to consideration of the broad population when approximately 10% of the population is making the decision about who the elected representatives are in Congress and our legislatures.

Unfortunately, lack of concern on the part of the average citizen has left us with a governor who appears to be more in tune with the Koch brothers than the men and women of this state.  We continue to lead the nation in low-wage workers and the number of citizens without adequate health care.  In spite of this, it seems our current leadership would rather buy into the theory that there is no such thing as global warming in order to avoid having to face the possible regulation of the Koch brothers’ refineries which spit poison into the atmosphere on a daily basis.  We are also faced with a state administration which believes that no new taxes is much better than decent public education, having slashed the funds for public education while keeping several million dollars in the bank.

I hear many people complaining that government is not working.  Unfortunately, one of the big reasons it is not working as most citizens would like is that too many simply don’t care enough to inform themselves and cast educated votes at the proper time.  Political prognosticators and pollsters have reached the point where they count on you not to appear at the polls.  It’s time for more of us to wake up and actively participate in every election in which we have a God-given opportunity to do so.

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