Today, we’re pleased to have guest blogger Matt Phillippi. Matt is a veteran of numerous campaigns and a serious student of North Carolina politics.
What’s going on with the State Legislature? North Carolina has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country, and our lawmakers seem to be spending their time on legislation allowing people to bring guns into bars, or making it harder for people to get a divorce. A lot of people seem happy to simply reply, “They’re crazy” and leave it at that. While it may seem that way, the reality is that the state of our legislature is a symptom of a much larger problem. That problem is partisan re-districting and the idea of a ‘safe’ district.
The truth is, for the most part, they’re not crazy, they’re pragmatic. Partisan re-districting creates ‘safe’ districts for politicians of one party or another. In these districts, primaries are the often the only really competitive part of the election. Since primary elections have a low turnout, politicians seek to earn the votes of the 10% or so of voters who come out to vote in such elections, and who tend to be more rigidly partisan in their ideas than the average citizen. But when you’re focusing on the needs of only 10% of the district, and they’re the most ideologically extreme 10%, it’s easy to get tied up in meaningless fights over regulation or social issues and miss the needs of the vast majority of your constituents. We need an independent re-districting body, because without it, our system lacks the checks and balances that are supposed to prevent this exact thing from happening in a democracy.
The entire concept of ‘safe’ districts is in itself inimical to democracy. The framers of the Constitution intended that the people should decide who represented them, not whatever party happened to be in power at the time the lines were drawn on the maps. A politician should never feel ‘safe’ in this sense of the word. On the contrary, they should, at all times, be accountable to the people they represent. If there is one thing we can take away from one hundred years of Democratic control of state government, and the cronyism, corruption, and complacency that it produced, it is that a politician should never feel ‘safe’.