I have made an effort to ascertain whether the approach I propose below fits with the circumstances — legal and political — well enough to be a genuine option. From what I’ve been able to learn, the answer is yes. But I’m not certain of it.
With the 2019 elections, the Democrats now control the Virginia state government — both houses of the General Assembly, as well as the statewide offices — at the crucial time when we move toward the 2020 census and the redistricting process to follow.
Redistricting brings us up against a long-standing form of corruption of our democracy: Gerrymandering. It should be voters who should choose the politicians, not the politicians who should arrange for the voters they want.
Although gerrymandering has always been part of the American political scene, in recent times the Republicans have been especially shameless in rigging the system to gain power. Perhaps it hasn’t been as bad in Virginia as, say, in North Carolina, but it’s been plenty bad enough.
The Democrats are now in a position to do unto the Republicans as the Republicans have done unto them, and rig the system in their own favor. That could be a powerful temptation– one that history suggests would be normal for a political party to succumb to. (And especially now, given the totality of our political situation, with urgent need to drive from power the rogue Republican Party that has so badly darkened this era.)
But on the other hand, given that same political situation, this is a time when Virginia — and the United States generally — need for the Democratic Party to be better than a “normal” American political party.
With the Republicans having degraded into virtually complete moral bankruptcy, it will not pull us out of the pit unto which our politics have descended for the Democrats to enact the historically normal combination of constructive-and-corrupt.
Hence the dilemma: should the Democrats take advantage of their power to drive the disgraceful Republicans out of power by gerrymandering the districts? Or should they “do the right thing,” modeling what’s right and righteous by drawing the lines fairly?
As Cindy wrote here recently — “Hey, Virginia Legislators, About That Restricting Amendment We Begged You to Pass…” — there’s a constitutional amendment that would “reform” the current, readily corruptible system of redistricting. But, given the constraints on what could be passed, that improvement nonetheless falls a good deal short of the ideal.
(And maybe even worse than that, as has been argued here by Del. Mark Levine.)
All of which is to prepare the way for a better option than either 1) more of the same, or 2) just do the right thing: i.e. a way that makes use of the power the Democrats now have (assuming I understand what they are in a position to do) to compel the Republicans choose between either 1) agreeing to the ideal, or 2) getting a taste of their own medicine.
Here’s what I propose:
First, the Democrats come up with what the IDEAL system would be. Other states have instituted significant reforms– perhaps one of them has already designed it. (When I ran for Congress (2012), I proposed a system that would use a computerized algorithm to draw the lines in a manner that would be uncontaminated by any interests but objectivity and fairness.)
Second, the Democrats offer the Republicans a choice:
- Either help put this ideal system into the Virginia Constitution, so that the ideal system will govern the drawing of the lines for the coming decade, and forever thereafter in the Commonwealth of Virginia; and that’s how the lines will be drawn for the coming decade;
- Or if you refuse to institute this permanent abolition of gerrymandering in Virginia, we will gerrymander the state to our own advantage for the coming decade, as you have done in the decade gone by.
This is a win-win for the Democrats.
Either they achieve an end to the problem of gerrymandering, which would represent the Democrats being the sterling political party our politics so badly needs, when the other Party has gone over to the dark side.
Or they gain an advantage through the corrupt system, but the fault for that perpetuation of the corruption lies squarely with the Republican Party.