Originally, politics had to do with the Proprietors, then the immigrants, then the King of England, then the establishment of the nation. Philadelphia first perfected the big-city political machine, which centers on bulk payments from utilities to the boss politician rather than small graft payments to individual office holders. More efficient that way.
Because of precision gerrymandering with computers, congressional incumbents now face very few serious re-election contests. Left with only a few seats in serious contention at each election, the public is dissatisfied by this reduced level of control but does not know how to strengthen it. Turning to the courts, for better rules, probably won't help. Once you fix the number of seats in Congress, give at least one seat to each state, and insist that geographically contiguous districts within a state should all contain the same number of inhabitants, there isn't much wiggle room. That's what then creates the rather strange connection between restraining gerrymandering, and imposing term limits.
Long-term incumbents in a legislative body maintain its institutional memory; their experience is a valuable thing, and recognized gifted veterans should be retained. Although a dozen states have even willingly sacrificed such advantages by imposing term limitations anyway, no one contends that all long-term incumbents are bad. We just have too many of them. The nominating process favors extremists, and they have crowded out the legislators from close districts who must be constantly mindful of current public opinion. Legislative bodies need to have a better balance between the two kinds.
So here's a proposal. Go ahead and impose a reasonable term limit, perhaps eight years. But then allow exceptions for districts which can demonstrate a plausible amount of bipartisanship. If the district in its last election had elected a governor or president of the opposite party from the incumbent congressman, or if one Senator in the state is of the opposite party, these might be reasonable grounds for permitting a district to keep re-electing its incumbent congressman. That might not be enough; perhaps a district should demonstrate two of those proofs of bipartisan spirit. But this would be a start. And a warning.
Originally published: Thursday, June 22, 2006; most-recently modified: Thursday, June 06, 2019
|Posted by: Suzy | Jul 30, 2011 11:29 AM|
|Posted by: Steffi | Jul 28, 2011 6:59 PM|