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Has the US House effectively become a US House of Lords?

Old 11-11-04, 10:52 AM
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Has the US House effectively become a US House of Lords?

No Vote Necessary
Redistricting is creating a U.S. House of Lords.

By David S. Broder
Thursday, November 11, 2004; Page A37

John Mica has pulled off a feat many of us would have thought impossible. He has been elected to Congress without ever having his name on the ballot this year. His story says a lot about what has happened to the House of Representatives, the part of the federal government designed to be closest to the people, but one that has become more like an American House of Lords.

I heard about Mica from Russ Freeburg, a retired Chicago Tribune political reporter who now lives in Mica's Florida district. When Freeburg and his wife went to vote, he noticed something missing. His e-mail tells the story:

"I pointed out to an election official at our polling place that there was no House race on the ballot, even though congressmen and women were up every two years. She immediately called the Volusia County supervisor of elections for an explanation.

"While she was on the phone . . . I was informed that my congressman, John Mica, was unopposed. I said, 'I knew that, but shouldn't his name be on the ballot, with a line below it for a write-in candidate?' That seemed traditional to me. I asked whether Mica didn't need to get at least one registered vote somewhere so he could be returned to Washington as an 'elected official' to serve another two years. The answer came back over the phone that Mica had been 'automatically reinstated in Washington.'

"Well, I covered a lot of politics in Chicago and Washington and elsewhere, but that phrase was new to me. . . . Mica wasn't even listed among the Florida House winners in the Orlando Sentinel the day after the election. It is like he no longer exists and is some sort of 'stealth' person representing his district in Washington. . . . I like Mica. He is a good congressman. But I thought people running for office had to be on the ballot, if for no other reason than an official stamp that his office and his district exist."'

Not so, it turns out. Mica, a 61-year-old, six-term Republican House member from Winter Park, Fla., was the beneficiary of a venerable Florida law saying that if you are unopposed and no one has filed notice of a write-in campaign against you, your name doesn't appear on the ballot. Since Mica had no primary opponent, his constituents never encountered his name at any point this year.

Mica's case is not unique. Five of Florida's 25 representatives ran unopposed this year, four of them, like Mica, with no primary opponent. Around the country, 30 others were similarly unchallenged. In Florida, as in other states, even those who had opponents waltzed to victory. Nationally, more than 85 percent of House incumbents won by landslide majorities of more than 60 percent. In California, with 53 House members, only three fell short of that mark. In Florida, only one of the representatives -- the famous Katherine Harris -- received less than 60 percent of the vote. The district lines in these and most other states were drawn by partisan legislatures to protect incumbents of both parties from the inconvenience of competition.

Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy, said in a memo last week that "this House election was the least competitive in history." He based that claim, he told me, on the fact that outside of Texas, where a controversial Republican redistricting in 2003 succeeded in defeating four of five targeted Democrats, only three incumbents lost their seats. That's a 99 percent success rate outside Texas.

The Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to rehear the Texas redistricting case, but unless it someday decides to curb partisan gerrymandering, the makeup of the House is almost immune to change. Thanks to rigged boundaries and the incumbents' immense fundraising advantage, nearly 96 percent of the "races" were won by a margin of at least 10 percent. Richie noted that 29 of the 33 open seats (with no incumbents running) stayed with the same party. The turnout of voters was about 50 percent higher than in off-year 2002, but party ratios in the House barely budged.

At the founding of this republic, House members were given the shortest terms -- half the length of the president's, one-third that of senators -- to ensure that they would be sensitive to any shifts in public opinion. Now they have more job security than the queen of England -- and as little need to seek their subjects' assent.

Without apology, they enjoy being "automatically reinstated in Washington."

I was aware that there were many unopposed candidates, but they should at least be listed on the ballot.

Sadly, the answer to this question is virtually, yes.
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Old 11-11-04, 11:09 AM
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No danger in the United States House of Representatives becoming a House of Lords - don't get all excited.
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Old 11-11-04, 11:12 AM
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Originally posted by classicman2
No danger in the United States House of Representatives becoming a House of Lords - don't get all excited.

Predictable answer coming from gerrymanderman2.
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Old 11-11-04, 11:17 AM
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It does cause some worry that the Senate is now the competitive body.

James Madison & Alexander Hamilton are turning over in their graves.
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Old 11-11-04, 11:51 AM
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If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about our political system, I would require all states to adopt the Iowa aportionment system.
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Old 11-11-04, 11:57 AM
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And if I could waive that magic wand I would repeal the Seventeeth Amendment.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:01 PM
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Originally posted by JasonF
If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about our political system, I would require all states to adopt the Iowa aportionment system.
How does that work?
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Old 11-11-04, 12:04 PM
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Originally posted by classicman2
It does cause some worry that the Senate is now the competitive body.

James Madison & Alexander Hamilton are turning over in their graves.

Funny how things change.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:04 PM
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Originally posted by classicman2
And if I could waive that magic wand I would repeal the Seventeeth Amendment.
Agreed.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:30 PM
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Originally posted by Groucho
How does that work?
In most states, House of Representative Districts are mapped out by the legislature. This means that whoever controls the state legislature can gerrymander the House seats to ensure favorable representation for their party.

In Iowa, the task of mapping House seats is given to a non-partisan commission. They are not allowed to draw district lines that split counties, and they are not allowed to consider party affiliation in drawing the districts. The reuslt is that Iowa routinely has 2 or 3 competitive House races every election.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:34 PM
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Originally posted by JasonF

In Iowa, the task of mapping House seats is given to a non-partisan commission. They are not allowed to draw district lines that split counties, and they are not allowed to consider party affiliation in drawing the districts. The reuslt is that Iowa routinely has 2 or 3 competitive House races every election.
Are they allowed to consider race when drawing up these districts.

So-called non-partisan commissions are general a bad idea. Leave it to the State Legislatures.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:35 PM
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Originally posted by JasonF
In Iowa, the task of mapping House seats is given to a non-partisan commission. They are not allowed to draw district lines that split counties, and they are not allowed to consider party affiliation in drawing the districts. The reuslt is that Iowa routinely has 2 or 3 competitive House races every election.
Brilliant! Here in Utah, we have three districts. Until a couple years ago, they made sense: Northern Utah (Somewhat populated), Southern Utah (Rural), and Salt Lake County (Urban).

But the State Legislature got pissed that Salt Lake County kept sending Democrats to Washington, so they gerrymandered. Now, Salt Lake County is divided up amongst the three districts, which are all a mixture of rural and urban population...making it very hard for a congressperson to effectively represent their constituency, since the needs of the various constituents are vastly different.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:35 PM
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The state that got the most attention for gerrymandering had the most number of competitive house races than any state.

Sort of believes the argument for Iowa.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:38 PM
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Originally posted by classicman2
Leave it to the State Legislatures.

Who should leave it to a computer.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:39 PM
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Originally posted by classicman2
The state that got the most attention for gerrymandering had the most number of competitive house races than any state.

That's only because they have so many districts.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:42 PM
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Originally posted by Red Dog
Who should leave it to a computer.
No state.

That's only because they have so many districts.
Charlie Cook (and Charlie knows the congress) said that there were 12 really legitimate house races in the country. 5 of them were in Texas. I don't recall any being in Iowa.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:43 PM
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Originally posted by classicman2

Charlie Cook (and Charlie knows the congress) said that there were 12 really legitimate house races in the country. 5 of them were in Texas. I don't recall any being in Iowa.

12 out of 435.
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Old 11-11-04, 12:47 PM
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Originally posted by Red Dog
12 out of 435.
So - I was merely responding to the argument put forth by your fellow lawyer about how great the system was in Iowa.
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Old 11-11-04, 01:01 PM
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Originally posted by classicman2
The state that got the most attention for gerrymandering had the most number of competitive house races than any state.

Sort of believes the argument for Iowa.
Check back in two years when the dust has settled. The races were competitive this year because you had the incumbent Democrats versus the gerrymandered Republicans. In 2006, you'll have the incumbent gerrymandered Republicans versus the Democrats. I'm not putting my money on the Democrats.
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Old 11-11-04, 01:04 PM
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Originally posted by classicman2
So - I was merely responding to the argument put forth by your fellow lawyer about how great the system was in Iowa.

Yeah by saying that state legislature political gerrymandering is the best way to apportion districts.
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Old 11-11-04, 01:09 PM
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Originally posted by classicman2
No state.



Charlie Cook (and Charlie knows the congress) said that there were 12 really legitimate house races in the country. 5 of them were in Texas. I don't recall any being in Iowa.
Cook had 16 truly toss-up seats. 7 of those were open seats; one was a new seat; 3 were in Texas.

The 56 seats that Cook considered competitive included two of Iowa's five seats. Which is to say, less than 13% of races were competitive nationwide, but 40% of Iowa's races were competitive.

http://www.cookpolitical.com/races/r...hart_oct29.pdf
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Old 11-11-04, 01:11 PM
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BURN!
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Old 11-11-04, 01:22 PM
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I don't think we should consider the US house becoming a US House of Lords until they start wearing powdered wigs.
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Old 11-11-04, 03:50 PM
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Well my county is about 50/50 Dem vs. Repub, but when my district is gerrymandered to include the cow country to the north, the result is that Mike Bilarakis (R) gets to run unopposed every 2 years. I now hear that he's thinking of retiring, but he's grooming his son for the position. Always nice to keep a public office "In the Family."

I swear to God, I'm writing my name in there in 2006. This year, I just skipped over House Rep on the ballot. VinVega will be in Congress by 2006! "Funk that!" will be my slogan!
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Old 11-11-04, 08:08 PM
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Originally posted by JasonF
Cook had 16 truly toss-up seats. 7 of those were open seats; one was a new seat; 3 were in Texas.

The 56 seats that Cook considered competitive included two of Iowa's five seats. Which is to say, less than 13% of races were competitive nationwide, but 40% of Iowa's races were competitive.

http://www.cookpolitical.com/races/r...hart_oct29.pdf

To be fair, Charlie Cook doesn't offer those assessments himself. C-Man's claim may be entirely accurate. He likely is.

Personally, I think I had about 17-22 races as being truly competitive. Actual results indicate there were less than twenty. Going by memory, none were in Iowa.
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