So, obviously I was wrong about how that one was going to go. And here’s why:
1. I underestimated the turnout among minorities.
2. I underestimated the lopsided majorities for minorities that OFA was able to generate for the President.
3. I overestimated how many folks would come out to vote for Romney and friends.
So, basically those things add up to make the electorate of D+6. And Republicans are obviously not going to do so well in such an environment. The figures are still coming in, but basically seven of the most Republican-leaning counties in Ohio had a massive drop in voter turnout . I suspect the same will be true in the panhandle counties in Florida and the western and southern parts of Virginia. Colorado and Iowa, I’m not going to pretend to guess. The former is a rough one because of the Hispanic vote and the latter I dunno, but Bush 2004 was the only time in recent history (basically 1992 and onward) that has carried it for the Republicans.
There’s going to be a lot of infighting on the Right about “How this happen??” but what doesn’t help is this assumption that the Right must absolutely throw out everything that makes it distinct in order to win anything. Just today the beloved, nonpartisan NYT ran some article about how the GOP is can’t appeal to minorities and so we must drop our opposition to big government. Pretty hilarious-it’s tails you win, heads I lose. George W. Bush didn’t do everything right, but he did make a really good attempt at reaching out to hispanics, who are, as they say, “fellow-travelers” in the realm of free enterprise and socially conservative values. In a year that saw very similar arguments to 2004, Bush won 40% of the hispanic vote. If Romney got anywhere close to that level of support, he would have won the election, period. I assume I don’t have to even go into it why the GOP or conservative types need to drop their opposition to the sort of policies being pursued by the Dems-we just lost what was a close election. It’s not like the entire country repudiated conservative ideas on every issue across the board. It’s more like 50.4% of the country decided Obama would be better for the country on whatever issues they thought most important.
Which gets us to why, exactly, the Right is so despondent, what it tells us about the Right and what could give us a good direction in the future.
First and foremost, we love this country. We don’t love everything about it, but we really, really do love this place. And we think there’s nowhere to go. For this and many other reasons, we aren’t conservatives like you find elsewhere in the western world. After the 2004 election, some thoughtful liberal-leaning guy said “you know, conservatives do love this country more than us. I just don’t get it, but I know that if I treated my wife the way I treat a country I tell people I love-if I kept pointing out flaws and mistakes, nobody, not even my wife, would really believe that I loved them after I did that long enough.” And it’s true. We’re not obsessed about a “project.” We don’t think government can truly fix all the social ills that continue to wreck havoc in the lives of too many. We think politics has its limits.
All that being said, if liberals are guilty of only being proud of some future country that they fundamentally remade, conservatives are guilty of wishing to bring about a new paradise of conservative principles governing all, “restoring” the United States to whatever greatness we believe existed at some point in the past. The reason why there’s so many cranky old conservatives isn’t just because of Churchill’s maxim of “no young conservative, no old liberal” but because they think either in nostalgia of a time from their childhood or a time before they were born, and hold that up for as what we ought to aim to get back to. Which makes sense-conservatives don’t like socially liberal movements, so they want to get back to an America where there was a consensus on what was socially acceptable. I’m not entirely convinced that’s a helpful way of framing what appropriate policy is for any government, nor do I think it is fair to the present, the past or the future. I can act as nostalgic as I want for the 1990s-a period where gays were mostly in the closet, but then I must think-what about partial birth abortion, before Bush banned it? Then I can go back to the 1950s and think “wow, what a great consensus on socially conservative ideas!” and then I think: “Well, wait, an entire segment of our population couldn’t get a bus, and people like my grandma were viewed with distrust because she was a widow with kids. That’s not fair.” Not all social conservatives have this false-historical-era-as-the-goal, but too many do.
…And that leads to how we as conservatives frame issues like this. We make a lot of hay about elections and the will of the people and if people are behind our policies and ideas or not. Because we very, very wary of embracing the idea that politics-as-executed (i.e. the campaigning, the lies, the entire part of the political process outside of actual policy-making and administering the government-which, coincidentally, is what we really focused on in 2012). We love this country, we love the constitution, and because we frame elections as almost holy things, of like Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai, we lose sight of a view things.
The first mistake such a view leads to is confusing popularity of a candidate with the endorsement of policies or even governing philosophies and worldviews. Obama was elected, but nearly every statewide ballot to raise taxes was defeated, and in Michigan, an effort to consitutionalize union power was soundly defeated. Like most things in life, the truth is hard to discern, and in the end is mostly subjective in nature. It is probably foolhardy to try to understand the will of the nation based on the results of 130 million votes (and the 80 million-odd non-votes by eligible voting folks). The GOP learned the hard way in Bush’s second term that even Presidential elections don’t confer mandates for particular policies. Social Security reform and an immigration overhaul were non-starters, even with a Republican congress. In the same way, Clinton’s entire presidency serves as a good case example of what a “split-mandate” between Presidential and Congressional preferences can mean, as Clinton’s presidency began with an assault weapons ban, DADT and an attempt at health care reform, led to workfare, a capital gains tax, a budget surplus. I’m under no illusions-Obama is not Clinton, he has no interest (as of yet) to work across the aisle to find common ground.
The second mistake is that this is not the beginning of some new era of social liberalism. The free-love 1960s was followed by Nixon. The real growth of gay-as-“normal” began during the last decade while Bush was in the Oval Office. Beyond that, using electoral results as proxy for what the mood is of the country in terms of social policy is sort of silly. The government does have limited power in pushing the country in one way or another, but what’s considered socially acceptable is usually driven by what influences wider culture. And in that way, conservatives have much to be happy about. For too long, liberals have owned K-12 education, the universities, the media and even the mainline Protestant churches, but those are all changing. Within a decade, the majority of kids won’t be in a public school, at least not as currently constituted. The higher education bubble will pop within the next few years. The media is changing at an incredible pace-witness the shuttering of Newsweek. Protestant mainlines are on their way out, as they pay for putting what’s socially acceptable ahead of any conviction or adherence to anything higher. And none of these things came about because Bush or Obama were elected-all these phenomena are by and large independent of partisan ideology (that could be because the push to help the middle-class earn a college degree was bipartisan, though). All that aside, the culture is changing. But Marx and Fukuyama were wrong. History does not have a pre-ordained course. Social conservatives who care about such things should be concerned that voters in three states approved gay marriage (first time ever approved by voters rather than court-ordered) and marijuana, but it should spur the religious right to do more to explain their view on marriage. And it should spur a greater debate with the Right about what path-libertarianism (“the state shall not recognize any marriage” and as part of tax reform get rid of most deductions) or social conservatism ought to be pursued. I could write a lot about this, but basically it comes down to being the Party that tells people that not everything is equally acceptable. Which comes off as really mean and a non-starter, but in my experience, most people are at least willing to hear the argument, if not out-right agree with it. But that requires not just a good argument but a wider control of the culture, because right now there is an unsustainable cultural Marxism that has been there since the 1960s and has continued to today.
So, in the end, elections are important, but we need not fall in to despair. Democracy is great, but in times like these it is best to think of them as Churchill did: “the worst system except for all the alternatives.”
Second, conservatives are very sad because we think Obamacare fully implemented will bring about a new level of dependency upon the government, and that will screw us forever. I understand the sentiment, but 1) it’s not like Obama and friends had any idea what in the hell they were doing when they crafted the bill-while long term it is definitely going to lead to a total government takeover, in the near-term it will 2) mean the end of medical plans for a lot of people and 3) drive the costs up for everyone. 4) Its chief goal, to insure everyone will also fail to meet expectations as reality will catch up with rhetoric. In no place in the world does socialized medicine actually deliver quality care to everybody for free. And that’s in places where there’s actually an existing bureaucracy to deal with it-i.e. not here. And while this isn’t full-on socialized medicine, it will disrupt the health care market in an unbelievable way. If anything, this terrible piece of legislation will drive more people to conservatives as people see just how incompetent the government truly is. And it is. I have socialized health care.
And this gives the GOP an opportunity in the next four years to really think hard about how it would do things differently. Government bureaucracies are next to immortal, but it won’t be like that forever. It only seems that way because we have had the money for so long to try out as many dumb policies as we wanted, but I suspect it will not go on forever. The fight over Obamacare definitely elevated our thinking about health care policy, and it will continue to do so. A lot of good people are going to suffer because of this awful bill, and the conservatives need to be ready with an actual thought-out plan with how we will rehaul the rehaul. It will be disruptive, and it will make some people mad, but that will be a fait accompli as the next Republican president takes office under the cloud of austerity.
Third, conservatives are very sad because we know that this will be an economic disaster. And it will be. The Obama recession will continue for four more years, meaning we will have a lost decade of growth. My generation will now never have the earning power we could have had, and will ironically be pissed about their joblessness as they stumble through the second Obama term they so desired. We already see the vote of the markets-they are plunging more than they have in a year. The dollar is crashing. Capital flight will continue at a much faster clip, probably never to return. The fiscal cliff will not only raise taxes on everybody, it will destroy businesses. Dodd-Frank, like Obamacare, is essentially a corporatist scheme, as these government-assisted corporations will disrupt and destroy the natural flow of capital. Massive unemployment will be as unavoidable as it is tragic. And for this, I don’t have much more analysis. It’s not like we’re unique here-we’ve seen this show in Japan in the early 1990s. The only difference is, is that we are the largest economy and our double-dip recession will crush the rest of the world. I’m pretty confident the social fabric will hold and we won’t actually hit Greece-like levels of instability, but we’re on the same road.
The only thing I can think of is that Obama and friends will come to their senses and seek to moderate their economic policies sooner rather than later. But the problem, besides Obama’s apparent inability to negotiate, is that the real drivers of our economic instability are part-and-parcel of the legislative items he pushed in his first 18 months of office, and his administration’s complete lack of understanding in how markets work. And so I think I can safely predict that Obama will not get enough done with the House GOP, and will then seek to do things administratively through Executive Order, leading to a Supreme Court case that will help settle just how much a President can do. And the pressure on the House GOP to do just that will grow exponentially if Benghazi keeps revealing worse and worse things.
Fourth, conservatives are worried because Obama is seeking to basically gut the military for reasons not very clear to anybody-assuming, of course, his “I will veto anything that gets rid of defense cuts, no I mean I will not let sequestration happen” was typical election year opportunistic posturing. His administration has been adrift in terms of overall grand strategy. But just like in health-care, reality gets a vote. Because Israel can’t trust this White House (and it can’t, with apologies to DNC supergenius Debbie Wasserman-Schultz), Israel will attack Iran early next year-probably right after Netanyahu and friends win re-election on January 22nd. That will lead to a regional conflagration that will mean continued US commitment to the region. Or we will leave Israel to figure it out in a time of war. Either way, its not like Islamists hate the US less because Obama is President, and its not like they are going to let up because everyone is giving each other high-fives on Facebook. We’re about to find out what happens when you ignore a problem for the better part of a decade, and I suspect it will upend Obama’s plans for security policy. I have to say, though, that most of this White House’s policies on security have been okay, beyond these possibly-politically guided ideas about cuts, non-existent grand strategy (though to be fair that’s been an issue since 1991) and killing Americans without trial.
Finally, conservatives are pretty sad because this election seems to tell us that ideas don’t matter, that identity politics trump what’s best for the country, that either the country doesn’t care or doesn’t want to listen to us and the actual numbers of economic decline that have been the defining characteristic of the last four years. A man that we really don’t like, who we think lied about Benghazi, who spent trillions we don’t have, that wants to spread the wealth around, and frankly a guy who we think is out of his league. And that goes beyond the whole cult-of-personality, nonthinking garbage that seems to dominate my newsfeed these days. Some of these feelings go to the more objectivist-style thinking (in terms of objective-vs-subjective, not Ayn Rand) that is popular in conservative circles. But it goes deeper. We thought the country was smarter than this guy’s campaign. And 48% of it was. And a huge Republican majority was returned to the House-meaning many more folks voted for a Republican message of budgetary restraint and a check on the White House. The 2010 midterms weren’t a fluke, and it wasn’t the result of 40% turnout and a lot of pissed off white people. It was sustained, and is definitely sustainable unless something remarkable in Obama’s favor happens, which is unlikely given the history of second terms.
We’re also sad because now our fellow citizens are denouncing us as being racist, bigoted and friends of…whatever the opposite of “Forward!” is. We think this confirms our fear that big government will lead to a herd of sheeple that will attack anyone who gets in their way of using the government to take from workers and give to leachers. For a conservative, the real horror story is that perhaps we are too late to stop our beloved country from becoming a place where hard work is suspect, where achievement is mocked, where hand-outs are expected and honor and valor are buzzwords. And we may be there, but I don’t think we are. Obama won not because in four short years we remade the country, he won because we successfully demonized a man who gave more of his income and time to his fellow man than either man in the White House ever has or will. Obama won because he convinced enough people who may not be as politically involved (because, frankly, they have other stuff going on in life-something we ought to remember going forward), that he understands their plight. And while most of white America is way past such things, for too many people the color of one’s skin is a helpful indicator of how much they are willing to help you in your situation. No President has done more to destroy the prospects of minorities in this country than this man, and yet he won. He won because 80%-18% thought he cared more about their situation than Romney. While conservatives want to win on ideas (at least nowadays), and while we don’t want to indulge identity politics or put Marco Rubio up there solely because he is an articulate, hispanic politician of some note, this is democracy. And in democracy, the people choose. And there is an art to getting people to listen, and we failed this time around. Our policies are sound-you can tell when you compare Indiana and Wisconsin to the failed state of Illinois, or when you put Texas next to California. The GOP needs to get smart about party infrastructure, so we can get all our McCain voters out next time. But we need to get smart on our messaging, because we’re failing to show enough of the country that we do care.
We want to win on good ideas, but, again, this is not the best system. It is the least bad. And we love it, and we love this country. So we can’t give up.
So, this is my prediction. Romney 295, Obama 243. I’m basing it basically on Gallup and Rasmussen giving a single point win for the national vote to Romney, 49-48. I’m also guessing that the polls that have unreasonable expectations for Democratic turnout are a bit off (anything beyond D+2/3, which is the pre-2008 standard). I think it is entirely likely that the last-minute deciders will either vote for Romney, vote for a third-party, or not vote at all. It just seems unlikely to me that after four years, a 48% approval versus Romney, a (barely) 50% approval rating, and a 53% “wrong track” poll, that Obama can expect anything beyond a 50/50 for undecideds in his direction in swing states. I think Romney will take something closer to 55-60% (or more) of the undecideds in a lot of the swing states. But I think the actual vote in a lot of these states is going to be incredibly close. Extremely loud and incredibly close. I think Obama has a fairly good shot at winning, but I think Team Romney has put so many blue states in play that it is more likely he will win, even though a fair amount of the blue states in question have similar demographics and state issues. I just figure there are enough variations in each state electorate that if Romney doesn’t take, say Ohio, he still could possibly take Wisconsin because of say, the latter state’s GOP ground game (which came about because of the never-ending recall elections) could mean victory. I also want Romney to win, so that might have something to do with it. What this campaign makes me think about, though, is more interesting than a snapshot of national opinion. Sort of.
If Obama wins
If Obama wins, the Democratic Party will continue to get pounded in most down-ticket races. 2010 gave the GOP the greatest House majority it has had in over 60 years. It gave the Republicans control of 29 governors’ mansions, and they are on track to add North Carolina, Montana and Washington state to the GOP column. The GOP has also never been as strong in as many state legislatures as it does now-it now owns 27 state legislatures outright (28, if you include Nebraska). The Dems control only 15 state legislatures, with the remaining being divided. Furthermore, California is the only large state with outright Democratic control (and we’re seeing how well that’s going). So, 2010 was a big deal. State governments matter-they allow for the execution of various policies and are easily comparable, allowing for striking contrasts. They also provide a stepping-stone to the race for the Presidency, something that will no shit start happening as soon as Obama is re-elected for the GOP. There aren’t too many more places that the GOP can realistically expand its reach (Kentucky, West Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota and Connecticut are our best bets, and if we want to short-circuit a powerful challenger, we need to win New York). The Senate will probably-finally-fall to the GOP in 2014. After fumbling it in 2010 and 2012, there will probably be a reconfiguration at the top of the NRSC and state GOP offices to fix the process of picking candidates. Ideological purity will probably still be an issue in some places, but the GOP will probably become more cautious about destroying its old guard, now that we have screwed our chances for what will be four years.
Which gets us to the inevitable ideological war that will erupt if the GOP stays in opposition. Instantly, Romney will be labeled either “too moderate to win” or “too conservative to win.” Paul Ryan will remain the intellectual godfather of the Party and might be the frontrunner in some circles to take on Clinton or Cuomo in 2016. But because the GOP has so many prominent officerholders throughout the country (see above paragraph), it is likely the primary contest will be filled with what in UK politics they call the “Big Beasts”-people like Ryan will compete with folks like Christie, Walker, Haley, Rubio and Thune (and maybe even Daniels, returning from the wilderness of Purdue’s Presidency). In the end, the GOP has already basically decided it will be a conservative alternative to the statism of the modern Democratic Party, and in the end it will be more a contest of who can appeal to more people. I suppose the nature of the conservative-vs-moderate thing will be mostly a child of how badly Romney loses.
The Democratic Party will probably become a husk, much the way the GOP did at the end of the Bush years. The GOP will hold on to the House as long as Obama is in the Oval Office, and they will use their investigatory powers to get answers on Fast and Furious and Benghazi, the second of which has the power to cripple this administration for years. I often use hyperbole, especially in talking about politics, but I cannot think of a worse scandal for any administration. I also totally expect Obamacare to be not just back in the courts (the numerous First Amendment issues are finally getting looked at now, as they were not acknowledged with this past summer’s ruling), but at the front and center of political debate throughout the country as it is being implemented, and it will not be a vote-winner. There are already so many incredibly ridiculous things in it beyond the massive tax increases and the effective end of choice in provider, it will keep the administration on the defensive for much of the second term.
I don’t expect any movement toward bipartisanship in the next four years. Obama just does not understand how government in this country works. Sorry if that sounds partisan, but Clinton found a way to get along with Gingrich. The President is the Head of State and the Head of Government, and it is incumbent on him to make the relationship work. Yes, the GOP is full of conservatives. But the Democratic Party isn’t a bunch of moderates. And this isn’t a parliament. I suspect Obamacare and Dodd-Frank have so many insane problems that will effectively be a huge malfunction and unpredictable, and Obama will not be able to negotiate anything with the Republicans. The latter of which will have almost no reason to negotiate-they will then have their worse fears confirmed, that these pieces of terrible legislation will destroy the economy even further, and then they will hedge their bets that the White House will be their’s. And it will be. Like I said, the Dems will be not just exhausted from the typical second term all-out defensive, they will literally be driven out of government in most places outside the beltway. Their party infrastructure will be severely weakened because the best and brightest will leave for bigger and better things and the B-Team comes in as it sometimes does in second terms. Recruiting good candidates will become more difficult as the prospects for victory will be even further.
But, as good as this may play for the Republicans in one sense, the purpose of parties and politics is not to see who can win as many offices as possible, but to win the ones that count the most and enact the policies that are best for the country. And that’s why I hope this scenario does not come to pass.
If Romney wins
Chris Christie will have a hell of a fight in New Jersey. As will all other GOP governors running for re-election in 2014. If Romney does what he pledges, his administration will polarize the nation in a way more like Thatcher than like Reagan. The fights in Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey-of the knights of the Old Blue Order-will go national, and it will take considerable nerve (and careful negotiations in the Senate) to get it done. I think there is a greater chance for a Romney landslide than an Obama one due to incumbency and yatta yatta, but by the time I get back from Afghanistan, I think it’s a safe bet to expect Romney’s approval rating will be lower than he’d like. Sweeping reforms of Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security are essential for this administration to be able to say in 2016 that it got the debt and deficit under control, which is basically its life mission in the first term.
It is probable that the Dems (under not Pelosi) will win control of the House in 2014, though the GOP will still have a fair shot at winning control of the Senate that year due to states up with Class II seats. Andrew Cuomo, Deval Patrick and Martin O’Malley will be the front-runners for the 2016 nod.
It will be very interesting to see how the GOP develops intellectually and ideologically through the Romney years (especially if it gets beat in 2016). Due to the looming fiscal apocalypse, it’s now or never for a lot of pretty good ideas first dreamt of at AEI and the Hoover Institute over the past twenty or so years. I doubt all of them will be implemented or executed in the best fashion. It will also be really, really interesting to see how Romney (and Obama, actually) deals with sequestration (hopefully in the lame duck, they just push everything to the middle of next year to get some breathing room) and the must-do-now reform of Obamacare. Because of his business experience, I suspect Romney and his friends will be cooking up a fairly sizable agenda as the Obama era comes to a close. And not too brief it was.
BONUS: No matter who wins, we will attack another nation in the “arc of instability” between now and November 8th, 2016.
So I’ve done a lot of thinking about Ohio Issue 2 and I’m fairly conflicted. I’ve said for a while now that the current system that rewards those officeholders and legislative majorities that luck out and hold power around the time of the decennial census is sort of nonsense. I look at the insanely gerrymandered districts for the US House and some Ohio legislative districts and I’m not a fan at all. So, I think I have been on the record as not exactly a status quo kind of guy, but I’m also not convinced that Issue 2 is a good solution. Now that we actually have a mechanism to solve this problem, I’ve got to thinking a bit harder about all the issues this sort of thing touches on.
The issue of gerrymandering really gets at the issue of “How ought the people be represented?” and “How ought we structure our government to deal with rival factions?” (the latter the subject of quite a bit of the Federalist Papers). To me, there are a myriad of questions that touch on varying subjects, but it really comes down to three issues: Who should draw the districts? For what end? and What kind of accountability is there to ensure integrity?
The first question: Who should draw the districts? is hard to answer without getting into some of the partisan spats that are flying around about Issue 2. Currently a mishash of elected executive and legislative officeholders makeup the current redistricting committee. Obviously, the current system has problems. If one party controls enough of these offices, districts tend to be drawn that benefit that party. At its core, Issue 2 is a mechanism to change who draws the district, and everything else after that is sort of an after-thought. (Which is probably why there are potential constitutional issues with it) And while this proposed amendment has similar characteristics to other such commissions in other states, I think its sort of an omission of failure for democratic governance that we basically entrust the selection of this commission to the judges, with the hope of impartiality. (Let’s not even get into the language of “best qualified candidates” and how you cannot hope to measure that without pissing someone off.) While yes, in a perfect world we should strive to have impartial, smart, technocratic folks who act as our political referees, we do not live in that world and our constitutional makeup accounts for it. Federalist Paper No. 10 calls for controlling the effects of the inevitable push for people to craft political factions and groups, and doing so through a Republic that divides power and utilizes representational democracy. Wouldn’t we be better off accepting that officials connected to these parties will be in the driver’s seat of our politics by nature, and thus the best solution is the one that utilizes the mutual distrust of parties to get the most benefit, rather than let judges (who may or may not be partial to one party or another) decide which four Republicans, four Democrats and four Independents (whose non-party qualification I’m not sure we can ever truly ensure) decide our panels?
The second question: To what end should these districts be drawn? Issue 2 wants the new Commission to “draw legislative districts that avoid splits to counties, townships, municipalities and city wards where possible…require the Commission to adopt a plan that complies with applicable federal and state constitutional provisions, federal statutory provisions…meets the factors of community preservation, competitiveness, representational fairness and compactness.” And then in the next sentence says that the Commission cannot draw districts that “favor or disfavor a political party, incumbent or potential candidate.”
There’s a lot of issues with this, so I want to just drop some bombs on each one and move on. First off, pre-existing political units such as counties, towns and wards should be respected in my book, as it seems to be the most fair way to prevent extreme gerrymandering. However, this may or may not be a permanent solution, as population migration trends are showing that conservatives and liberals are tending to live away from one another, basically turning the metaphoric echo chamber into a real one. Parts of Bowling Green and Wood County are showing such philosophical gentrification in some small ways, are they not?
Second, on competitiveness: I question whether or not gerrymandering is actually smart enough or can get smart enough to outsmart voters who are truly pissed off. In terms of the US House, we have had more wave elections in the past twenty years than the forty years before it-1994, 2006, 2008 (sort of) and 2010. So, nationwide and within the state of Ohio, a lot of seats that were originally crafted to be incredibly safe for incumbents have not been quite as safe as they were thought of when they were crafted. (This happened in PA in 2000 and IL in 2010) A notable argument for Issue 2 is that “Hey Ohio is a total purple state, so why does the state return so many GOP legislators at the federal and state level?” While the Ohio House has only shifted to the Dems for the two years following the 2008 elections (and the Senate never), that seems in line with how the state-wide offices trend: the two US Senate seats and the Governorship have, over the past twenty years, trended toward the GOP. And yes, Ohio has voted for the winner by a hair’s margin over the past twenty years, but until Obama it never gave the Democratic candidate a majority of its votes, and even then it was only 51%. Dig a little deeper, and you find that the majority of local offices at the county and town levels are Republican. So while I think recently Ohio is seen more as the most purple of purple states, the GOP is usually the default party for the majority of voters across the past two decades, and while there is gerrymandering and that is bad, even if we had no districts and did a state-wide Proportional Representational system, it would return a majority GOP legislators nearly every year. (I’m sure someone, somewhere has counted all the votes for GOP candidates vs. Dem candidates over the past twenty years and found that a majority of votes went to the GOP-which wouldn’t be the best measure since gerrymandered districts also discourage the minority viewpoint holders to go to the polls in the first place) Now, beyond competitiveness in terms of party, what other ways are we talking about? Race? Socioeconomic status? And if we control for anything except for political leaning, does this not invite a multitude of lawsuits since it would (probably) violate a number of federal statues? And here’s another fun one that I don’t have an answer for: if we make every single seat extremely competitive, do we lose something (probability of longer-serving members with knowledge of how to go up against the executive, crazier ideas that might be out of the mainstream, etc.)?
Third, on representational fairness: This is incredibly vague language that, if Issue 2 is passed, will result in it being used as a vehicle for lawsuits until the language is changed. If, again, this is some code for race or socioeconomic status, could we see a similar phenomena that shows up in the South and a few other states, where whoever wins the party primary by being most extreme in racial or class politics guarantees victory in the fall because of purposely gerrymandered minority-majority or certain income-majority districts? And is that something we want? (It might very well be, I dunno. Arguably, we already have it in Ohio at the state house level, but after decades of data we can see that such officeholders tend to fail when they try to run for anything at a larger political unit.)
Fourth, on compactness: again, vague as hell. And as this paper and this paper point out, measures of compactness may not actually deliver the result once thought to be the natural endstate, and that such endstates of drawing for compactness might result in more, not less, GOP winners.
But these three issues are all sort of beside the point of that they may potentially conflict a great deal with one another, and there is no stated preference for one of these criterion over another nor is there a mechanism to decide which gets preference (this is why vague laws might be better than vague constitutional amendments for things like this). And one other huge issue that will definitely see a lawsuit coming is that by banning the commission from considering political parties in drawing districts, it will get incredibly difficult to craft anything that meets the aforementioned criteria.
The third question: What kind of accountability is there to ensure integrity? I said earlier that our constitutional system controls for the effects of a naturally-occurring political party system, and that to give up the selection to this commission to the whims of judges (even if the slate is narrowed by elected officials) admits in some way that democratic governance cannot be trusted in this regard. We would rather assume that judges can be impartial referees, despite party allegiances being held by many in the judicial system both formally and informally. Actually getting to the accountability question: there are really two problems, the first being that there is no way to fill positions on this commission if people quit or die or are found to be corrupt and thrown in jail. I suppose we could say the judges could just put in a runner-up from the 42-person slate, but that doesn’t escape from the second and most fundamental problem of: There is no democratic accountability for this commission. While party leaders and officeholders get to determine the slate and can black ball particular people from it, the final call is not with those whom we trust to manage the affairs of state but with those who administer justice. And that’s just not right with me, despite my misgivings about partisan warfare corrupting how our democracy functions. I would rather keep the top officeholders in the state in the driver’s seat for this, because the voters can still fire them. There are definite problems with the current set-up linked to these politicians but I’ll get to it in my proposed solution. Last bit for this: Having judges decide on such things like this commission gets into separation of powers in a less than positive way.
So if not Issue 2’s Commission, then what? What would a James Commission look like? Answering the three questions (Who draws, to what end and the issue of accountability) in a satisfactory way fore everyone is probably a fool’s errand, but I think it’s a smart move to aim for a system that: 1. Puts the decision-making in the hands of elected officials. 2. Draws districts for the end of returning more competitive districts (based on past data of partisan elections for these offices, like maybe say we don’t want any districts that will rate above +5 on Cook’s Political Index-not a hard and fast rule but just an idea) through the use of pre-existing political units (cities, counties, townships, wards), a limit on sides of polygons for districts and a mandate to draw districts with rough equality of population as checks on this James Commission. 3. The issue of accountability is huge, so to control the effects of partisan nominees for this commission, I would utilize time in hopes of returning a more equal commission. Thus, over the course of a decade, the three winners of gubernatorial elections, the three winners of Secretary of State elections, the five winners of House Speaker and Minority Leaders and the five winners of Senate Majority and Minority Leaders would all be given one commissioner slot (and would be asked to produce an alternate just in case, and if that falls through, then the current whomever that shares the same partisan leaning would get another slot). That’s 26 individuals who would form the James Commission on Redistricting following the decennial census (and over the last decade would have produced 14-12 GOP majority). They would elect a leader who would vote as a tie-breaker, they would be tasked to produce, with assistance from the pre-existing Legislative Service Commission and the research bureaus of the Secretary of State, a legislative map that meets the ends of what I outlined above. We could even require them to reach a 60% threshold for agreement (16/26). If they fail to reach an agreement, they would be forced to produce three maps and we can have the county commissioners/executives vote on it (all 200+ of them) and they can narrow it down to two, then from there vote for the one map they most like. Kind of clunky, sure, but it has democratic accountability while not giving an incredible power to just whoever was lucky enough to come out on top in the end-of-the-decade elections.
Less radical would be to basically keep the current system, but do Husted’s proposal for 2/3 majority vote in the legislature to pass redistricting, instead of a simple majority.
Talk of constitutional reform gets one to thinking about other oddities about elections and offices. Perhaps reform of our primary/general election mechanisms is needed-like go for a jungle primary for the first Tuesday in November then another one some time later like in Louisiana, or top two-vote getters in the spring face off in November, as California has done. Perhaps its time to go unicameral, as Nebraska has. Perhaps we need true term limits (no switching back and forth from the Ohio House to the Ohio Senate and back). Perhaps we need single six-year terms for our Governor. Maybe the Ohio Secretary of State should be elected by the legislature. Perhaps we need to eliminate townships!
One final note: I’ve already highlighted the potential constitutional challenges this amendment would bring up, but the selection criteria as well could be incredibly sticky for the legal realm, as could people who were declared independent when chosen and then (secretly or overtly) are partisan. There is, apparently, some talk of other limitations that would be brought about by statute that would be really, really difficult to not get thrown in the courts. And finally, Issue 2’s mechanism to settle tiebreakers is a boon to the GOP, as nearly all the Ohio Supreme Court justices are Republican. All it takes is for all four GOP commissioners and two “independents” to say no, and the GOP judges get total control and on one hand could give Republicans a great map but piss off Democrats (and appear partisan…not the referees this amendment imagined), or it could happen the other way around.
One of the most remarkable things coming out of the multiple disasters/ongoing crisis since 9/11 is the sense that maybe the lives of Generation Y members is going to be radically different than what could have been expected just a decade or so ago. Of course, this seems be true with every group…