Wednesday, November 01, 2006

FT: Democracy, My Butt!

Pick up today's (Nov. 1) Financial Times for a clear statement of why and how to reform U.S. Congressional elections. Others have hit on this similarly, but this is a crisp analysis from Deanne Julius, chair of London-based think tank Chatham House, and John Gault, associate faculty, Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

Limited Online: Unfortunately the commentary is double walled. You can read it in the paper edition, but the electronic version requires an online subscription, just a paper one won't do.

They note that "during the past 50 years, more than 95 per cent of congressmen who stood for re-election won." Coincidence? They think not.

Money attracts money and donors of all types give to the incumbents, giving them a huge advantage. However, this shrinks in significance in light of redistricting, a.k.a. gerrymandering. In most states, the incumbent lawmakers can redraw the congressional boundaries. Too often creating safe seats and "forcing minority incumbents to fight each other for the rest."

The authors quote one congressman who lost his seat this way as, "We know democracy is not promoted if we end up with partisan politicians selecting their constituents rather than the other way around."

A terrible side-effect of this shameless behavior is voter apathy. More and more voters don't bother because they perceive the fix is in.

Julius and Gault prescribe:
  1. Setting term limits for both houses. This would "ensure contested elections without incumbents" more often and might lead "citizen-politicians" to run and win. They recommend two terms for Senators (12 years) and four terms for Reps (eight years).
  2. Iowa-style redistricting. This uses a Legislative Service Bureau with a bipartisan director to recommend boundaries following each census (every decade).
  3. Free broadcast airtime in the final weeks of each campaign for candidates who accept public funding with its spending limits. This, of course, is to encourage lower cost/higher content campaigns.
These steps would, the authors hope, "break the unholy trinity of money, media and pollitics that has corroded the American model and tarnished its reputation abroad."

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