Staff Editorials

Gerrymandering is at the core of our dysfunction

Demonstrators rally during oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case about partisan gerrymandering in electoral districts, at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2017.   (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Demonstrators rally during oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case about partisan gerrymandering in electoral districts, at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

First District U.S. Rep. Rod Blum deserves a round of applause for joining a legal brief along with 33 other current and former members of Congress denouncing partisan gerrymandering as the U.S. Supreme Court took up the critical issue this week.

The bipartisan brief supports a legal push in Wisconsin to overturn districts redrawn by political operatives using sophisticated computer modeling to give Republicans a large advantage in the battle for state legislative control. In 2012, Republican candidates won 48.6 percent of the vote statewide, but claimed 60 out of 99 Wisconsin legislative seats.

In Iowa, redistricting is very different. A nonpartisan commission creates district maps using decennial census data, with a main focus on achieving population parity and drawing district boundaries neatly along county lines. State legislators can vote the maps up or down, with rejection prompting the commission to further tighten population disparities.

Bottom line, Iowa’s system makes it exceedingly difficult for partisans to seek an advantage. It’s a big reason why Iowa’s congressional and legislative races have been among the nation’s most competitive. Iowa’s system routinely is held up as a national model.

“Iowa does it right, and I’m very proud of that,” Blum, a Republican, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier’s Christinia Crippes.

The issue of gerrymandering cuts to the core of our political dysfunction. The creation of districts dramatically tilted red or blue has left us with a U.S. House dominated by a legion of representatives more concerned with the narrow desires of hard-core partisans than the common good of the country. These politicians are loath to seek any compromise that might alienate their party’s rigid base, or any interest groups stoking its partisan passions.

If you wonder why the House won’t take up even the most modest gun control measures, comprehensive immigration reforms or countless other popular initiatives ripe for bipartisan compromise, gerrymandering is a big reason. A hopelessly divided House cannot stand nor deliver solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems.

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Blum seems to get that, pointing to the remarkably small number of truly competitive districts in the U.S. House, including the one he’s won twice.

Sadly, Blum is the only member of the Iowa delegation who signed on to the brief. Fortunately, no one is talking about changing Iowa’s system.

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