Business/Finance

Obama, Holder to lead fight against gerrymandering

Competition is good. Free markets are good. Give everyone a shot at the brass ring. Get rid of regulations that stifle competition and opportunity.

Thus spake many a Republican (and often a Democratic) politician, saying they only want to hand business interests in America a clear road to economic growth and apparent prosperity for all.

So why do those same politicians, at federal and state levels, balk at attempts to introduce competitiveness in elections?

What, you say? American state and federal elections are not competitive? Senate re-election rates have averaged nearly 90 percent in the past 16 years; House rates are higher still. Two years ago, Congress had an 11 percent approval rating … but a 96 percent re-election rate.

Why is that? Gerrymandering — the manipulation of election districts to afford one political party an advantage over the other.

Gerrymandering is the death of routinely competitive elections throughout the nation. Congressional districts are redrawn after the decennial census because of population shifts. That means the next round of political warfare over district boundaries begins in 2021. (Actually, it never ends. Redistricting is complicated and time-consuming, and the process varies from state to state.)

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee wants 2021 to lead to fairer district maps. (Caveat: Democrats are no mere innocents in redrawing districts; Republicans, however, have made advantageous redistricting into an art form.)

The committee will have two formidable spear carriers in the effort — a former attorney general of the United States, Eric H. Holder Jr., and an about-to-be former president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, writing in The New York Times this week, point out that President Obama is unlikely to fade into cushy retirement as some of his predecessors have.

For Mr. Obama, the redistricting campaign signals how personally engaged in electoral politics he intends to be after leaving office, unlike many former presidents who enjoy something of a cooling-off period. Mr. Obama has also appeared to concede in recent weeks that he spent a limited amount of time tending to the Democratic Party as an institution during his time in office, and in a television interview explained almost apologetically that the presidency is a time-consuming job.

Holder said the two friends won’t be alone in the effort. Joe Biden, the about-to-be former vice president, and several former and current cabinet members will be on board. These are not happy campers who are leaving federal service. President Obama is not likely to remain silent in the face of a Republican president and Congress relentlessly undermining and overturning his achievements.

But redistricting may be a special preoccupation among Mr. Obama and his allies: For them, Mr. Holder said, there is considerable resentment of how an entrenched House Republican majority undermined the president’s goals over three-quarters of his tenure.

“The tasks that he had placed before him were made a lot more difficult, progress a lot more difficult, than it needed to be,” Mr. Holder said of Mr. Obama. “That’s because of the Congress that he had to deal with, which was a function of the 2010 redistricting effort.”

Gerrymandering in redistricting needs to end – even when Democrats have to surrender their “safe” seats in the process. President Obama, a skilled politician fueled no doubt by Republican obstructionism over the last eight years, still has a remarkable political and fundraising machine at his beck and call.

Gerrymandering now has powerful, motivated opponents. Maybe in 2021 redistricting will become fairer.

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