Gerrymandering foes need a big history lesson

Published 9:40 am Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Michigan Election Bureau, a division of the office of the Secretary of State, has approved language for a 2018 ballot proposal that proponents claim will provide the mechanism for drawing more equitable boundaries for political jurisdictions, eliminating the practice of “gerrymandering.”

Legislative district are redrawn after every U.S. census to reflect the changes in population every 10 years.

Before we can look forward to that, we need to look at the history of the effects of gerrymandering on the U.S. House of Representatives. Beginning in 1954, during the first term of President Dwight Eisenhower, the Democrats began a four-decade monopoly of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Between 1955-1994, the Democrats held total control of the House, even as the American voters elected Republican presidents five times, serving for 38 years, while the voters elected Democratic presidents four times, serving only 28 years during the same period of time (1955-1994).

For 40 consecutive years, the Democrats controlled the U.S. House of Representatives. Their reign over Congress ended in 1994, when President Bill Clinton’s party got trounced in his first mid-term election. Newt Gingrich became the first Republican Speaker of the House since Republican Joseph Martin served as Speaker from 1953 to 1955.

How did the Democrats maintain 40 years of control of the U.S. House of Representatives when Republicans drew more voters over the same period of time? They did this by drawing boundaries for Congressional districts that were far more advantageous to the Democrats. This practice is called gerrymandering and it served the Democrats well for a very long, uninterupted period of time — 40 years to be exact.

Now that the Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives, the Democrats are accusing the Republicans of gerrymandering Congressional seats for political gain. But the Republicans have only controlled Congress since the 2010 election.

It was “okay” for the Democrats to control Congress for 40 years, but heaven forbid that the Republicans control it for seven years. Throw the bums out.

The group that is circulating the anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal is called “Voters Not Politicians,” and they need 316,000 registered voters’ signatures to place their proposal on the 2018 Michigan election ballot.

According to the approved ballot language, there will be 13 commissioners who will draw the new district boundaries but they shall not be elected officials or politicians. These amateurs will be required to draw lines that are politically competitive and pay respect to “communities of interest.”

I wish I could tell you what a “community of interest” is in regards to the ballot proposal’s requirements, but no definition exists yet. That will be up to the five Independents, four Republicans, and four Democrats who will sit on the new commission. What is important is that we know more about who will be selecting these 13 non-political Independents, Republicans and Democrats.

Knowing what I have learned about politics during my career, there will be plenty of gerrymandering to go around if this ballot proposal is approved by the voters.  But instead of a partisan partiality existing for just one party, it will now allow Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to join together in the gerrymandering fun.

A native of Niles, Jack Strayer moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington DC since 1976. Strayer has served as a congressional staffer, state legislative press secretary, federal registered lobbyist and Vice President of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is a nationally recognized expert on federal health policy reform and led the fight for the enactment of Health Savings Accounts.