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Thursday, July 13, 2017


Unpopular revolt

by Tom Sullivan

George Washington and his troops near Fort Cumberland, Maryland, before their march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. (Public domain)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing forward to pass the "most unpopular legislation in three decades." The latest version is expected to debut this morning looking much like the old version. Not a single state supports it. Writing for Reuters, political scientist Scott Lemieux recounts how wildly unpopular the Republican project is in general:

It’s not just healthcare. Every major item on the GOP’s agenda polls badly. After healthcare, Republicans want to pass more tax cuts for the rich, which are very unpopular among all voters except Republican elites. The rollback of environmental regulations - which under Trump’s EPA director Scott Pruitt has been one of the most consequential results of Trump’s victory - is widely despised. The public also opposes loosening workplace safety standards and defunding Planned Parenthood. The Republican agenda couldn’t be less popular if it was designed to repel majorities.
But majorities are not required, as Republicans see it. It is sufficient that they remain in charge, in a sham democracy if need be. Through sophisticated gerrymandering, voter integrity propaganda, voter purges, voter suppression measures, and by continuing to support a president compromised morally, ethically and politically, they hope to maintain their rule even as they pursue an agenda supported by an underwhelming minority of voters in an electorate that votes in ever shrinking numbers. Time for a popular rebellion about something more than whiskey.

John Nichols writes for The Nation:
The Republican Party, which has benefited from this dysfunction, is in no rush to change things. Indeed, it has at its highest levels embraced the voter-suppression lies and scheming of charlatans such as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and President Trump’s Orwellian “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.” So it falls to progressive Democrats, nonaligned independents and third-party activists to take the lead in the struggle for democratic renewal.
Rep. Don Beyers, a Virginia Democrat, introduced in late June the Fair Representation Act to address the gerrymandering problem. FairVote explains how it would work:
Smaller states with five or fewer members will elect all representatives from one statewide, at-large district. States with more than six will draw multi-winner districts of three to five representatives each. Congress will remain the same size, but districts will be larger.

They will be elected through ranked-choice voting, an increasingly common electoral method used in many American cities, whereby voters rank candidates in order of choice, ensuring that as many voters as possible help elect a candidate they support. Under ranked-choice voting, if no candidate reaches the threshold needed to win, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. When a voter’s top choice loses, their vote instantly goes to their second choice. The process repeats until all seats are elected.

Using this approach, four in five voters would elect someone they support. The number of voters in position to swing a seat would immediately triple -- from less than 15 percent in 2016, to just under half.

The districts themselves will be drawn by state-created, independent commissions made up of ordinary citizens. These larger districts would be nearly impossible to gerrymander for political advantage – and would force politicians to seek out voters with different perspectives and remain accountable to them.
The bill (H.R.3057) is in committee. It has two Democratic co-sponsors, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Rep. Ro Khanna, of California, and little chance of going anywhere in this Congress. Ranked voting has its supporters, but I haven't dug enough into it to speak to its merit and weaknesses. Nevertheless, Democrats need to be moving in this direction, writes Nichols:
The people are angry about gerrymandering. They want competitive elections and true representative democracy. (A 2013 Harris poll found that 74 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents object to the pro-politician, anti-voter methods of redistricting that now prevail in most states for congressional and legislative elections.)

Combining support for the assault on gerrymandering that Beyer has proposed with support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (as proposed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others in the Senate and House) and with support for a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote and to have that vote counted (as Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison have proposed) would go a long way toward branding the Democrats as the party of reform that America needs.

By becoming the party of democratic renewal — promoting bold and meaningful changes that empower voters to end the malaise in Washington and state capitals nationwide — Democrats can make themselves the party of the future.
Can, maybe. But will they? According to local legend, back in prehistory when Democrats still firmly controlled both houses of North Carolina's legislature, progressive activists approached the senate's majority leader about moving to nonpartisan redistricting. He grinned and dismissed the idea saying, "Democrats draw great districts," and lived to regret it.