From the posting of the YouTube video HandsOffRedistricting V1 I’ve already received some very thoughtful and interesting responses. Most were by email so I’ll anonymize the names, but there was a common thread in many of them:
I don’t see a thing wrong with the idea and it should work. There lies the problem. The ‘old system’ works just fine for the party in power when redistributing time rolls around…. I can’t imagine a congressman taking on the fight without nationwide support behind the concept. — HK, Texas
Watched your piece and found it very thoughtful and practical….Redistricting is such a sacred cow for politicians that I remain very cynical about any major reforms. — SD, California
Having the political process cede control of redistricting means that this as an alternative approach needs to find strong champions. — ML, California
In these comments and others one detects very reasonable skepticism as to whether there is a political path from Here to There. Partly because everyone who responded so far knows me — and perhaps is a little concerned for me? — the topic of Real World Implementation feels like one of the first topics to address, and an issue that will persist and grow for the life of the undertaking.
Believe me, I share the concern. I don’t see an easy or fast way to negotiate a transition from Hands-On to Hands-Off Redistricting, and I see a lot of obstacles. The only way to succeed is to box the incumbent politicians in so that the political downside of NOT cooperating is truly intimidating.
I see some recent examples of this that make me hopeful: (1) the abuse of the Senate fillibuster rules rose to the level of general awareness that the public’s annoyance was worisome to those in the Senate, and (2) the House Republicans seem to have the sense that they have jumped the shark on the debt ceiling issue, and can’t be seen pulling that lever (at least for the time being).
In these and other less recent examples, the common element seems to be that the public reaches a saturation point on an issue that has been alive for some time, so that their distaste for the practice is reflected in derision and mockery. Politicians seem to have a special kind of radar that is finely attuned to mockery, and can sense when the public has reached a tipping point on an issue. They then, it seems to me, tend to beat a hasty and unseemly retreat.
So it seems to me two things ultimately have to be in place for things to change: the status quo has to so offend that it is widely mocked, and there has to be an obviously sane alternative vetted and with some momentum behind it.
Lots of people are putting the spotlight on how unfair and crass congressional gerrymandering is, and if we haven’t reached the boiling point of mockery, I think the public is at least simmering just below that level. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend taking a look at Gerrymandering, a great film by Jeff Reichert (Barack Obama’s turn at gerrymandering his district in Chicago was a revelation to me personally, and was arguably a turning point in American history) and a recent meticulously researched article by Robert Draper in The Atlantic.
It seems best for me to focus on The Obviously Sane Alternative. That is what’s outlined in the video, and what I’m actively looking for input on.