24 August 2006

If the average Californian doesn't like his congressman, the only option is to call the moving vans

Or just about any other state, including Arizona, as this well written Economist article titled Congressional redistricting or "How to rig an election" details:
All in all, reckons Charlie Cook, a political analyst, with four-fifths of the states having issued their new district plans, there will be fewer than 50 competitive races this time (meaning races in which the candidates are only a few points apart) compared with 121 ten years ago. Of those 50, only half will really be toss-ups. This is worsening existing trends. In 1998 and 2000, nine out of ten winning candidates in the House of Representatives won with 55% of the vote or more. That was the lowest percentage of close races of any election year since 1946, save one. In other words, redistricting is becoming a glorified incumbent-protection racket. And that is having all sorts of odd effects.

For one thing, it means the Democrats probably cannot take over the House this year unless a miracle occurs. The House will be decided by the toss-up seats. Roughly half of them are Democratic, half Republican. To overcome their current six-seat deficit, therefore, Democrats will have to take three-quarters of the closest seats — something they cannot do unless there is a dramatic change in the national mood.

The 2002 redistricting plans are making an already change-resistant Congress even more immutable. Only six sitting congressmen were defeated in the general election in 2000, a re-election rate of 98%. Such a result, which would hardly shame North Korea, is becoming the norm: the re-election rate has averaged more than 90% since 1952. Not surprisingly, congressmen are reluctant to leave their warm nests. Only 28 have announced their retirements so far, compared with 64 in 1992.

The combination of larger numbers of safe seats and increasingly expensive election campaigns is undermining the quality of American politics. There are now two categories of House races: the overwhelming majority, where the incumbent is a shoo-in and which national parties ignore, and a tiny number of competitive races into which the parties pour all their money and energy. Of course all politics is local. But in the current political arrangement, the local concerns of a handful of seats are inflated by a vast amount of national attention and end up deciding the balance of Congress.

Just examine the Arizona 2004 Congressional election results. The closest race was for the seat in the district which I reside, where Trent Franks coasted to a victory margin of 20%. The only seat seemingly in play for 2008, is CD8, for Jim Kolbe's soon to be vacated seat.


housekeeping tip:

the new comments section on the right of the screen don't show up for me on the main page, and some other pages occasionally too.