Fight Club Politics

If voters have such little say over who they send to Washington, how can they possibly expect good government once lawmakers arrive there?
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Hey there, this week I'll be writing about my new book, "Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives." In some ways I face a daunting task: I'm trying to get Americans to care about redistricting, a wonky topic that's not about to make it onto the front pages of People or US Weekly. But it's important, so I'll explain why I think gerrymandering by both parties has both silenced voters and contributed to the political polarization we've been seeing in Washington recently.

Essentially, incumbent lawmakers have rigged districts across the country to ensure they can come back to Washington year after year, with little competition. This has not only made them less accountable to voters, it's created districts that favor extremists on the right and left, because House districts are now mainly safe Democratic or safe Republican seats. True election contests have shifted to the primaries, so candidates appealing to their party's base do better in elections than centrists.

I've just been traveling the country for the past two weeks, and this is what I've seen. Connecticut, which creates its congressional districts through an independent, bipartisan commission, has three competitive House races this year. (GOP moderate Reps. Nancy Johnson, Christopher Shays and Rob Simmons all face serious challengers and have to appeal to swing voters, which explains why they're bringing in Laura Bush for a fundraiser tonight in Stamford, rather than President Bush.) By contrast California-a massive state by comparison, with 53 House districts-has two competitive House races this year, and in one of them, House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R) is still favored to win reelection since his seat has a 7 percent GOP edge because of the most recent round of redistricting.

I just spent a few days in Pombo's district, talking to several dissatisfied constituents. But many of these voters told me they were so angry about the political brawls in Washington they didn't know whether it was even worth taking a chance on a different politician, and they wondered if a Democrat could win the seat. (Pombo faces a primary challenger, former GOP Rep. Pete McClosky, as well as a Democrat in the fall.) If voters have such little say over who they send to Washington, how can they possibly expect good government once lawmakers arrive there?

And once lawmakers do get to D.C., things get even worse. Both parties have begun cracking down on dissidents in an effort to present a unified front to voters. Also, because members don't move their families to Washington anymore for fear of being labeled Beltway insiders, they no longer know members of the other party. That allows them to feel free to demonize each other.

That's all for now-I look forward to hearing what you think of this situation, and I'll respond to those comments.

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