Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

October 24, 2013

Phil Power: Gerrymandering at heart of dysfunction

I don’t know just how close our country came to economic disaster last week, but I do know most Americans are sick and tired of the entire mess in Washington. Up to now, I never thought the country was close to ungovernable, but I’m beginning to wonder.

It’s no secret we came near to chaos — if not economic ruin — last week, in large part because a few tea party-backed Washington politicians dreamed up the idea of holding our economy hostage to their hatred of the Affordable Care Act.

They did that, even though most people — including many Republicans — knew that this strategy could never work.

And in the end, it didn’t. Obamacare enrollment, despite inexcusable software flaws, is still going forward. The government shutdown cost at least an estimated $24 billion in taxpayer money.

Pragmatic Republicans and many in the business community are now assessing whether tea party populism is really the way of the future. The obvious question is going to be whether the voters are likely to penalize those deemed responsible for this mess.

My guess is not, mainly because the 40 to 60 or so incumbent right wingers who are largely responsible represent congressional districts that are gerrymandered so heavily Republican that they’re in no danger of ordinary citizen backlash.

Gerrymandered districts — whether Republican or Democratic — work that way. If a district is drawn to overwhelmingly favor one party, for example, the only election that counts is the primary.

And primary elections traditionally draw low turnouts, mainly from fierce partisan members of the party’s base.

This usually results in the most right-wing candidate getting nominated for certain victory in November’s general election.

Moreover, national hard-right groups, including the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, have been eager to dump millions into any primary in which their favorites might be threatened by more moderate candidates.

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