Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Typing through the tears...

We woke up this morning to find this heart-rending story of political gamesmanship, gamesmanship which has "cost" the United States Government the continuing "service" of Barney Frank. Poor Barney...
US Representative Barney Frank yesterday accused Beacon Hill lawmakers of drawing the new congressional map in a way that shortchanged him in favor of fellow congressmen Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch. Had they done otherwise, said Frank, he might have run again.

‘‘Markey and Lynch were protected, and the rest of us got what they didn’t want,’’ he said. Losing the chance to pick up some choice suburban towns for his district, Frank said, retirement became a more attractive option...On redistricting, Frank said he spoke with legislative leaders at the State House several weeks ago about the new lines for the Fourth Congressional District, to which he was first elected in 1980. They wanted him to take a reshaped district grounded in Southern Massachusetts, centered away from his base of Newton and Brookline. He rejected that idea, he said, but still ended up with a district that "unpleasantly surprised" him..."I talked to Ed Markey, and frankly I was a little disappointed there," said Frank. "I think Ed had some influence with them, but it was spent mostly on his own district.

"There was stuff that Eddie got that, if I could have shared some with Eddie, it would have been a better district."
I'm sorry, did I say "heart-rending"? I meant, of course, "heart-warming". And the tears are of laughter.

Oh, and what about Ed Markey's influence on the process? What was he looking for?
"My influence was to ask that all nine districts be Democratic districts, and independent analysts are concluding that all nine are safe Democratic seats," Markey said.
Yeah, I bet they are. No reason for Republicans in Massachusetts to have any shot at actual representation.

So let me talk, a little bit, about something that I found very discouraging in November of 2010. Some of you may remember my reaction to the elections, which produced such "great" results for Republicans nationwide. ("I'm sitting here in Massachusetts this morning, and "disappointed" doesn't even begin to describe how I'm feeling...") Well, in some ways, Republicans had a good decent night in Massachusetts, too. But not good enough to actually produce any electoral victories. There was a lot of enthusiasm among Massachusetts Republicans. There were a lot of votes. And there were a lot of losses.

Obviously, Massachusetts is a heavily Democratic state. But, it's also a heavily gerrymandered state. (As it's also the state where the GerryMander first got it's name, when Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a controversial redistricting plan in 1812, I suppose that's not inappropriate...)

And the current proposed map is no less contorted. No doubt they've managed to put together a plan in which all nine seats will go to the Democrats in 2012. Easy enough to do given the majority they've got, but there are certainly enough Republicans in the state for at least a couple of "fair" or competitive districts. If, you know, anyone were interested in something like that.

And what's the impact of all of the gerrymandering? Well, the more of it that gets done, the bigger the disparity between the minority party vote share and the minority party seat share. Here's a table showing what happened in 2010.

Massachusetts Republicans - 2010 Election
% of vote% of seats


US Representative34.84%00.00%

State Senate31.42%10.20%

State Representative25.16%20.30%
(While the Republican percentage varied from office to office, the Democratic percentage didn't change much, from 54% of the State Senate vote to about 58% for the Governor's race and the State and US House races. There were a lot of 3rd party votes and, particularly for the lower races, unopposed candidates where there were a great many blank ballots.)

Now, there's only one governor's office, so that's included mostly for informational purposes. On statewide races, the Republicans can, fairly often, come up with 35-40 percent of the vote, and, in the right circumstances, even win the Governorship. But it's interesting to note what happens in the rest of the categories. First off, in the state rep races, the districts are all small enough that there's not really a lot of room for extensive gerrymandering. In those races, the percentage of the Republican vote is fairly close to the percentage of the races that they won. (Pitiably small percentages, obviously.) In the State Senate races, where the effects of partisan districting really start to show up, the Republicans won 31% of the vote and only 10% of the seats. The Democrats won 90% of the seats with 54% of the vote. And in the US House races, where they can get very artistic, the Democrats beat the Republicans by 58%-35%, and took all ten (100%) of the seats in the process. So, despite the fact that the Republicans took 35% of the vote to the Democrats 58%, there continues to be no representation of Republican Massachusetts taxpayers in the United States House of Representatives. And the system is rigged to prevent them from getting any in the next election, either.

This is not new, of course. Nor is it particularly partisan - in places where Republicans control the process, no doubt there are similar effects.

But is it good for anyone? Other than the politicians themselves, of course? It's not at all obvious to me that it is. Of course, since the people that benefit are the people that are doing it, it's not at all clear what mechanism could possibly force a change in the practice, either...

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