Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Something to Consider

There was an interesting story on NPR this morning discussing the importance of this year's state house and state senate races across the country.  One of the races that was detailed was the contest to replace State Rep. Bryan Lentz (D) in Pennsylvania's 161st Legislative District, covering Central Delaware County. (Yo DELCO!!!!) The race isn't important because of who is running.  In fact, I am not even sure the story mentions either of the forgettable candidates.   Instead it's important because this is a district that could 'flip,' meaning  a seat currently held by a Democrat could easily be won by a Republican.

And that matters in Pennsylvania, because that could mean that control of the state House of Representatives could flip with it from Democratic control to Republicans.

So what, you say.  Sounds pretty normal.  One seat can make the difference.  That's why every votes counts, right?

Right.  Or in this case, every dollar.

Because also riding on PA-161, and a handful of other local races around the nation, is really control of the entire legislative branch of the Federal government.  how is that possible?  Redistricting my friend.

Re-districting is the drawing of congressional districts done after every Census.  In most states (Arizona is a notable exception), the re-districting is controlled by the political party that hold contol of the State House.  Since PA-161 could flip control of the Pennsylvania House from Dems to Republicans, it's of huge interest to those who want to re-draw those lines to squeeze Democratic district out of the Pennsylvania delegation and create a safe Republican district.

Redistricting is a fascinating art, generally creating safe districts for the power party's incumbents while doing everything possible to minimize the number of safe districts for the opponent.  Districts are often odd shaped things, picking up pockets of solid red or blue folks and narrowly connecting them to other solid areas to create a safe district.  An extreme example is FL-3, which is spread over nearly 100 miles, stretching from inner city Jacksonville to central Orlando, connected only by a narrow stretch of uninhabited land. 

Republicans created this district ten years back to minimize the effect of solidly Democratic urban regions by placing the two cities in one district.  Thus, the Republicans kept the suburban districts safely red in each of the cities and tossed the Dems a bone with a blue district.

So the simple fact of the matter is that there are a handful of local races this year that will affect the maps of a dozen of the biggest states in the country.  With those maps swing perhaps a sixth of congress.  Which has the party brass and the special interests salivating.

And that is why Harold Ickes, veteran Democratic strategist on the national scene  is managing the show for the Dems in PA-161.  As he notes in the NPR story, since there are virtually no rules on local campaign finance, the big dogs are free to pour money into the race.  He's forecasting that over $14 million will be spent by the Dems in this election.  Almost $18 million will flow into the race from the Republican side.  Former RNC chief Ed Gillespie is runnin the GOP show.  These guys are going to spend over 10 times what was spent in the last election in this district.

Why?  Bang for the buck.  This one little district could have a major effect on 10 congressional districts.  Elections in th US congressional races have tough spending rules that will limit the impact of money on those races.  So the investment is going into this race to try to create influence on all the others that will be fought over the next 10 years. 

I'm here to say this has to change.  I think Federal election rules should apply in any election year that would decide control of re-districting.  The gerrymandering of districts, while steeped in history, and often hilarious to see on the map board, robs voters of the local representation that our nation's founders envisioned when creating the bicameral legislature.  Finally, while it seems impossible, there has to be a non-partisan way to create fair districts.

Ok - enough of the civics lesson.  Time to watch Roy go for his 20th!


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