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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Dec
27

A Bigger House?

By · Dec, 27 2010

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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