We have a standard for judging partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court should use it.

In his farewell address to the nation, then-President Barack Obama called for an end to partisan gerrymandering, saying that congressional districts should be drawn “to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.” After his presidency, Obama will work with former attorney general Eric Holder, who will lead the National Democratic Redistricting Initiative, a group established to challenge Republican-drawn district maps in the courts.

One obstacle is that the Supreme Court has yet to recognize a discernible and manageable standard for identifying unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. In our recent book, “Gerrymandering in America,” we show that there is indeed a standard to judge these cases that can be directly derived from the Constitution (Monkey Cage article by Anthony J. McGann, Charles Anthony Smith, Michael Latner and Alex Keena)

The bell tolls for us

“Then you will have to fight in your country as we fight here.”

“Yes, we will have to fight.”

“But are there not many fascists in your country?”

“There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.”

“But you cannot destroy them until they rebel?”

“No,” Robert Jordan said. “We cannot destroy them. But we can educate the people so that they will fear fascism and recognize it as it appears and combat it.” (SLO New Times Commentary)

My Reflections on the 4th

In the face of today’s polarized, partisan environment, with the country’s political leadership caught between spasms of incompetence and arrogance, many are nostalgic for the days of yore when, the story goes, moderate centrists worked together and governed through bipartisan cooperation.

The problem is, this vision of centrist leadership is mostly bullshit (New Times Op-Ed)

The Health of Nations

The U.S. political system faces a monumental challenge in its capacity to fight off parasitic disease in the form of the Republican Party’s attempt to dismantle Obamacare and use the proceeds to enrich its biggest donors. Historically, it is rare for democracies to establish a widely beneficial entitlement, then to have a major political party attempt to simultaneously roll back those services and redistribute resources to the most affluent members of society, intentionally exacerbating inequalities that have been growing for decades (SLO New Times).

The Struggle Continues

Our electoral process has been much improved since the days of Tammany Hall, when the 19th century Democratic machine in New York controlled election outcomes by physically dragging poll watchers out of the polls, and sending in rounds of supporters multiple times, after having shaved their beards. Over the centuries, the implementation of the secret ballot, the expansion of the suffrage and the elimination of property requirements, poll taxes, and literacy tests, and the professionalization of election administration have greatly reduced election irregularities of all types (SLO New Times Column).

The SLO Life and Democracy’s Future

On May 2, the San Luis Obispo City Council split 3-2 and rejected, for the last time, an opportunity for the public to consider one of the most important questions regarding the operation of democracy. They declined to take up discussion of a democracy voucher program, which would provide a tax rebate to voters that could be cashed in to support candidates in local elections, greatly expanding the donor base that candidates rely on. So for now, democracy vouchers, possibly the most important innovation in voting rights technology since the implementation of laws to prohibit racial voter discrimination in the 1960s, are dead in SLO. How could city leaders, especially those who previously claimed to support democracy vouchers, reject even the idea of having a public discussion about this technology? (New Times Opinion)

Ethics, integrity, and public life

In previous columns, I have reflected on the emergence of a “new” political center and the resurgence of democratic engagement in public life that we see all around us as a result of our authoritarian 2016 electoral results. During a recent radio interview, however, a caller reasonably questioned whether, in the face of unprecedented partisan polarization and the previous failures of “centrist” independent candidates, “no labels” movements and the like, this is just wishful thinking.

While my observations are intended to shine a spotlight on the efforts of people like Matthew Dowd, whose Listen to Usorganization aims to put “Country before Party” and common interests above personal and partisan ambition, as well as Represent Us, whose members focus specifically on bipartisan electoral and campaign finance reform, what I’m really getting at is a movement centered within the partisan landscape, but not a creature of it (commentary at SLO New Times).