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Gerrymandering was Tom DeLay's Real Sin

Friday, 30 September 2005 12:00 AM

The question is not whether Tom DeLay is guilty or not guilty of the specific, bookkeeping offense for which he has been indicted. That is for the lawyers and the accountants to figure out. What is crucial is that DeLay managed to do something that is very, very wrong and highly injurious to our democracy — to fix the elections for the House of Representatives, in effect to take the ballot out of our hands.

Gerrymandering has been with us since the earliest days of the republic, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry drew a legislative district that looked like a salamander to get his allies elected, and the press dubbed it a Gerry-mander. But DeLay carried this pernicious practice to new lows.

The lines drawn by the Texas Legislature after the 2000 Census were not stacked to DeLay's liking. So the House Republican leader worked overtime to elect Republicans to the state Legislature so that they could override the map drawn in 2001 with new, even more biased district lines. His tactic worked and five Democrats were defeated in districts that wouldn't go Democratic even if Adolf Hitler were the GOP nominee.

Did he violate the letter of the law in the ways he funneled money to Washington to execute his nefarious plot? It depends on the paper trail. One has to be really, really stupid to get caught in this era of porous campaign-finance laws. If somebody was crazy enough to send an e-mail specifying how much the Republican National Committee PAC should give to each Texas state Legislative candidate, they almost deserve what will happen.

But there probably is no such trail. Money is fungible. DeLay and his minions probably orchestrated several corporate campaign contributions which the national Republican organization happened to use for clerical and administrative expenses which happened to free certain hard dollars which happened to be distributed where they would do the most good for the Texas GOP in the coming state elections.

Yet the result of DeLay's efforts is that we are losing our capacity to elect the House of Representatives. Only 20 of the 435 districts are in least sense competitive.

In the reapportionments that followed the 2000 Census, the political parties in almost every state cooperated to draw the district lines to minimize the number of incumbents who would lose their seats. As a result, the number of House incumbents defeated in the post-Census elections has reached an all time low. In the elections following the 1980 census, 42 House members were defeated. In those after the 1990 election, 39 lost their seats. But after the 2000 census, only 16 members were defeated — half by other incumbents drawn into the same districts as a result of the shrinkage of the state population.

The result of DeLay's efforts is that the control of the House of Representatives has now been predetermined and taken out of the hands of the voters. No matter what happens nationally, the GOP will control the House until the 2010 reapportionment.

This massive disservice to democracy makes a mockery of calls for increased voter turnout. What is the point when the lines have been drawn in such a way as to fix the results?

Did DeLay violate the law in siphoning contributions to his favored candidates? Maybe — but everybody does it too and its very unlikely that any criminal action can be proven. A wink and a nod is not documentary evidence.

Does DeLay deserve to be indicted? No. In virtually every state in the nation, campaign contributions from corporations are scrubbed and laundered through PACs and state or national party organizations so that they can replace hard dollars, which are then given to candidates while soft money pays for all other expenses.

But Tom DeLay stands guilty of a greater offense, one not punishable by the rule of law: He has subverted American democracy. The lower House of Congress, intended by the framers of our Constitution to be the body that best reflects the ebbs and flows of public opinion, is no longer really democratic. (The Senate remains susceptible to national opinion swings, since even DeLay has not figured out how to gerrymander state lines.)

Tom DeLay does not deserve to be indicted. But he should be condemned for failing to exercise that quality of restraint and deference to public opinion that is the hallmark of a leader in a democratic society. He sublimated the needs of democracy to those of partisanship. He has done his bit to make America a banana republic.

Copyright 2005 Dick Morris

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The question is not whether Tom DeLay is guilty or not guilty of the specific, bookkeeping offense for which he has been indicted. That is for the lawyers and the accountants to figure out. What is crucial is that DeLay managed to do something that is very, very wrong and...
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2005-00-30
Friday, 30 September 2005 12:00 AM
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