Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Partisan competition, democracy, and the Founders

As an advocate of let ‘er rip democracy and fierce competition of the marketplace of ideas, I am disgusted with any Republican politician who opposes Proposition 77. Don’t let any of the sorry lot fool you, their opposition is based purely on a desire for self-preservation.

The average margin of victory in legislative and congressional races last year in California was about 30 points. Nationally, only a handful of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are competitive. This is not what the Founders wanted. Look at the history of the early days of the House where huge swings in partisan makeup routinely happened. This is what the Founders intended for the “People’s House.”

Instead, we get bigger percentage swings now in the partisan makeup of U.S. Senate (as you can’t gerrymander an entire state). The system is upside-down thanks to modern computer technology in service of old Elbridge Gerry’s idea to pack districts.

As proof, take a look at the partisan composition of the last four Congresses.

U.S. Senate Republican membership went from 55 in 1998 to 50 in 2000 to 51 in 2002 to 55 in 2004. This is an average swing of 6 percent every cycle with a maximum change of 9 percent.

In contrast, the U.S. House Republican membership went from 223 in 1998 to 221 in 2000 to 229 in 2002 to 232 in 2004. The average change in the supposedly more volatile U.S. House of Representatives was 2 percent with a maximum swing of 3 percent.

Now, compare this to the post-Civil War era of 1877 to 1895. The average U.S. House of Representatives party change in the elections then was 29 percent with the biggest change occurring in the election of 1895 when the Republicans went from 124 members to 254 members while the Democrats plunged from 218 to 93 (now, that’s what I call a blow-out!). In that same year, the U.S. Senate only saw a switch of four seats from the Democrats to the Republicans – from the Founders’ perspective, an entirely expected result.

Vote “Yes” on 77!