The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

July 24, 2013

Gerrymandered districts, political extremes

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 — RALEIGH — Tom Edsall, a longtime political writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote an online column for the New York Times entitled, "Has the GOP Gone Off the Deep End?"

The piece was no meandering pontification of his own thoughts regarding the shortcomings of the modern-day Republican Party.

Rather, it was filled with critical quotes from GOP stalwarts like Bob Dole and Jeb Bush.

Edsall's column appeared to have been sparked by comments from Thomas Doherty, a top aide to former New York Gov. George Pataki, who wrote that he had reached a breaking point and would be leaving the GOP if the U.S. House destroyed the Senate's version of immigration reform.

Prominent people becoming disaffected with either political party is nothing new.

Edsall, though, connected some interesting dots regarding the latest round of GOP disaffection.

He noted that the far-right brand of conservatism that increasingly rules the U.S. House has largely come about during the age of conservative talk radio. At the same time, Republicans fortunes in presidential races have suffered dramatically.

Edsall quoted an essay which pointed out that Republicans won seven of 10 presidential elections in the years before Rush Limbaugh dominated talk radio. In the years since, the GOP has won two of six.

Lurking about the margins of Edsall's piece, though never mentioned by name, was the 800-pound guerilla called redistricting.

Conservative talk radio may well have helped to further political polarization in this country. If so, its constant companion has been modern-day congressional district drawing that uses computer software and demographic information to completely disregard traditional communities and precinct lines in order to pack together Republican and Democratic voters.

The result: Safe districts where ideologues are elected or incumbents embrace ideological extremes to avoid primary challenges, knowing that no one from the opposing party stands a chance in the general election.

It is those gerrymandered districts, and not talk radio, that has created the extremes seen in the U.S. House, while moderation prevails in a U.S. Senate where candidates run in districts — called states — whose boundaries were established decades and centuries ago.

Against the national backdrop of which Edsall writes, North Carolina has seen its own conservative turn, with legislative Republicans now elected from GOP-drawn districts pushing an agenda that has at times put a Republican governor who ran as a moderate on the spot.

For the GOP in North Carolina, the world looks fairly hunky-dory right now. The party controls both the legislature and the governor's mansion.

But it doesn't take too much political insight to question whether Republicans running for statewide office in the future will suffer because of a lack of moderation and prudence by their counterparts in the legislature.

If that happens, those districts that look so good for GOP legislators will turn out to be the means of GOP destruction at the state level.

Scott Mooneyham is a syndicated columnist for Capitol Press Association and covers activities of the N.C. Legislature.

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