Saturday, May 12, 2012

We're not in Kansas anymore!

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

    Kansas , it would appear, is becoming the poster child for "electile dysfunction" when it comes to redrawing political district boundaries. It's not, as one might first suspect,  a good old fashioned donnybrook between  Democrats and  Republicans.  It is a fight to the death between the Regular Republicans and the Destructionist Republicans.  It’s GOP vs. GDP (Grand Old Party versus Grand Destructionist Party).

    What has brought about a  state of political impasse is a fight between two kinds of Republicans . It is the right versus the far right. The tension is between the traditional  conservative 'Just say no" (politely) Republicans, and the "Just say hell no" and tear down the building while we're at it "Destructionist" wing of the Republican party.  I say” Destructionist” because, among other goals, they want to repeal the Kansas Personal Income tax, and create a new system which they tout as fairer, but which will result in more money flowing to the top one percent.  They also want to radically re-alter Kansas’ Social safety net.  To do so, they must remove the more recalcitrant of their Republican brethren, who are more main stream than destructionist. .  Woe unto those Republicans who stand for fairness and just distribution of the tax burden amongst the citizenry.  So , war it is!

    There is another way of looking at it.  The Kansas re-districting brouhaha is, at minimum,  a testament to the need for real reform in the way re-districting is accomplished every ten years. Many states have moved away from political gerrymandering to independent re-districting panels which perform the task the way it should be performed, without regard to preserving the hegemony of the incumbent. As long as the politicians are in charge of the decennial re-districting process, it will continue to be a game of who can best rig the system to their own advantage. It is akin to a syndicate of crime bosses dividing up their territories. When the political Cosa Nostra is in command of the process, the result is a continuing grip on the configuration of governmental districts that gives an edge to incumbency, and tips the scales heavily against change.  If allowed to persist, as it has in many states, it results ultimately in the stratification of our legislative districts which reduces competitiveness, and delivers but an illusion of democracy, not the real thing.

   In theory, we as a people have the ability to change the entire House of Representatives every two years, as all 435 seats are up for election.  The problem is that only about 100 of the 435 districts are actually competitive. Three fourths of them have been rigged...drawn so as to protect the incumbents on both sides of the aisle.

    In 335 Congressional Districts, if there is no change by way of defeat of incumbents in primary elections, there is no meaningful election. The system has been designed to avoid what the Founding Fathers viewed as the biennial opportunity of the electorate to weigh in on the state of the country. The illusion of an election is all that is left.

    Hopefully, the continued failure of Kansas' Legislature to achieve a consensus will open the door for the courts to do what the politicians failed to do...draw the lines fairly, freely, and in a way that makes sense geographically, demographically, and democratically.  Just as the excesses of the Pendergast machine in 1940 brought about the Missouri Court Plan in our neighbor state to the east (which selects Appellate judges on the basis of merit, not politics), so too can the impasse in the Kansas Legislature on re-districting lead to a reform of the way Kansas draws its political boundaries in the future. 
     The embarrassment that is the current Kansas State Legislature could give way to real reform if we seize the moment to bring about the change that is obviously greatly needed. As the old saying goes,  “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste!” . If only Kansans were allowed the rights of Initiative and referendum, we could say let the petitioning for a  new way to re-district Kansas begin!   Would that it were so.  Just imagine if we could move from Destructivist Republicanism, to Constructive change.  A better, brighter,  political future for all, could be  just over the Kansas Rainbow.  Clearly, with the way the Legislature is currently being configured, we are just not in Kansas anymore. The winds we really need are tornadoes of change in our governmental structure. How about it Toto?