The State Houses – What’s At Stake in 2010

Thirty-nine states will be electing a governor during the 2009-2010 election cycle. Of these, eighteen races will not include an incumbent and four incumbents who will be running were not elected to their current position. The recession and huge budget deficits threaten to undercut the power of incumbency for governors running for reelection.

The Current Line-Up

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Archive for December, 2010

Rep. Peter King, the dean of the Empire State Republican congressional delegation (actually the only member of the GOP caucus prior to the November elections), shared some political insights with his newly-elected colleagues about the ways of Washington. But, according to the New York Times, it’s Albany and the intrigue in the state capital that these new congress-critters need to keep an eye on.

Mr. King, a Republican from Long Island, talked to them about the importance of sticking together and about difficult votes ahead.

But then he turned to a subject that the rookies in the room had thought little about: redistricting. In a few weeks, lawmakers in Albany will begin talks on how to redraw New York’s Congressional map and eliminate two districts.

It was clear that these fresh-faced politicians were not prepared for what may be the ultimate insiders’ game.

“I told them to get ready,” Mr. King said, recalling the meeting. “That process turns friend against friend.”

The redistricting battle is looming as an early test of the anti-establishment sentiment that carried many novice politicians to victory in the 112th Congress. While more senior House members are already working their ties in statehouses back home to protect their districts, many freshmen are just waking up to what is coming.

Are they really? Is their knowledge about civics so limited that they don’t understand what the Census does every decade?

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Dec
29

PollWatch: PPP Ranks the Gubers

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Public Policy Polling provides a run-down of the gubernatorial polling they’ve done throughout 2010.

The nation’s most popular (of the 30 polled by the PPP gang) is West Virginia’s Joe Manchin – who’s now ducking votes as a Senator in DC. The least popular is California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been making noise about wanting to move east to work on green issues at the federal level.

Of the governors up for re-election in 2011-12, Democratic incumbents Steve Beshear (KY) and Jay Nixon (MO) are looking pretty good at this point, as is Republican Bobby Jindal (LA). North Carolina’s Bev Perdue could be facing a tough reelection battle, especially considering how the GOP flipped the state legislature in the 2010 GOP tsunami.

Looking back, it could be argued that unpopular incumbent governors could’ve been a drag on their party’s nominees in the 2010 contests. PPP observes:

-Four Governors ended the year (and their terms) in the under 30% approval club. The least popular in the country at least in our polling is Arnold Schwarzenegger at a -38 spread (25/63). The other folks reaching this unwelcome unpopularity level are Bill Richardson at a -37 spread, Jim Gibbons at a -36, and John Baldacci at -29. It’s not a coincidence that 3 out of 4 of these guys saw the Governor’s office in their state flip to the other party last month.

Regardless of political ideology, there are a few tasks Americans expect their government to perform – and perform well.

Whether it’s battling wildfires out West, cleaning up after tornadoes in the Plains, or digging out from snowstorms in the Midwest and East, most Americans expect a quick and efficient response from all levels of government. When the response is inadequate (think Bush and Katrina), there are often political consequences for elected officials.

This week’s paralyzing blizzard that left some Jersey Shore residents stranded without heat and food could cause serious political damage to New Jersey’s Chris Christie. The darling of national conservatives for his ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach to governing went on vacation (as did his Light Gov) despite worsening weather forecasts.  Poll numbers were already showing Christie’s home-state popularity declining. Going AWOL during a crisis can’t help.  It’s unlikely voters will quickly forget that their leaders were vacationing while they and their neighbors spent days digging out from under the snow drifts.

The lack of plows and passable streets serve as a vivid illustration of what happens when governments slash spending and cut public payrolls. The government (and the cut-and-run governor) won’t be able to help.

Categories : New Jersey
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Dec
27

A Bigger House?

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The prevailing anti-government, Tea Party-fueled ‘take back America’ political climate might make arguing for an expansion of the US House of Representatives  a political non-starter, especially among conservatives. But here’s conservative syndicated columnist Jeff Jacoby making the argument (and citing the Founding Fathers) that the current system is inherently undemocratic.

According to the Census Bureau, there are now 710,767 Americans in the average congressional district. But with every state constitutionally entitled to at least one House seat, and with the membership of the House frozen at 435,districts can deviate widely from the average. Wyoming’s single US representative has just 568,000 constituents; the member from neighboring South Dakota has 820,000. That means a vote cast in Wyoming has nearly 1.5 times the impact of a South Dakotan’s vote.

An even more egregious violation of the “one man, one vote’’ principle is the inequality between Rhode Island’s two congressional districts, with 528,000 voters each, and Montana’s lone district, with 994,000. So great is that disparity, observes Scott Scharpen, the founder of an organization called Apportionment.US, that it takes 188 voters in Montana to equal 100 voters in Rhode Island.

It’s more than the increasing inequality that occurs every decade. The static size of Congress also contributes to the alienation between Representatives and the citizenry.

The larger districts grow, the less representative lawmakers become. Since 1910, the average number of constituents per House member has climbed from 210,000 to more than 710,000. Over the same span, members of Congress have grown more remote, more undefeatable, more beholden to special interests, and less capable of reflecting the diversity of their districts’ values and views. Smaller, more numerous districts, would be far more democratic, more accessible to new blood and new ideas, and more difficult to gerrymander.

Congress worked better when the size of the House was elastic. The Framers reckoned congressional districts should contain about 30,000 constituents; districts comprising nearly three-quarters of a million would have struck them as ludicrous.

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University of Washington geographer and demographer Dick Morrill observes that the ‘surprising historical accident’ that four incumbent Washington House members reside at the edges of their current districts might dictate that the brand-spanking new Tenth Congressional district be carved out of northeastern King County:

So if we look at the area with the largest population with no incumbent representative to protect, we find it is northeastern King County. This area, with almost 2 million people, has only two representatives within its borders, so no one would be squeezed out. Thus a logical alternative for the 10th district is indeed King County, which has almost enough population for district 7 (McDermott, Seattle), 8 (Reichert, Eastside and south King County), and a new 10th (northeastern King).

This would in turn make the 9th (Smith, Tacoma) mainly a Pierce County district, and put Olympia in the 6th (Dicks, Belfair).

There is one caveat. If Jay Inslee opts to run for the open governor’s chair in 2012, the lack of an incumbent in his First District could provide the mapmakers to freedom to make a more radical redraw that would still protect the remaining incumbents.

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Dec
21

And the Census Says…

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No huge surprises in the Census’ reapportionment announcement this winter solstice. Republicans stand to gain electoral votes in 2012 simply by winning where they typically win, while Democrats are hampered by the midterm shellacking and their banishment to the redistricting sidelines in many state capitals.

The real redistricting battles will take place across the Rust Belt – from New York through Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri.

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Categories : Redistricting
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