Now that the Republicans have control of many of the state legislatures, they will be able to reapportion to their advantage based on the 2010 census. Is that a good thing? Obviously, for the Republican Party it is. But the power of incumbency is a real problem for all of us.

Dick Morris, an astute political strategist, in his blog post Reapportioner’s Dilemma: Go for the Extra Seats, analyzes the potential for Republicans:

The freshmen elected in 2010 will very likely benefit from the same Republican wind at their backs in 2012 as animated their candidacies this year. While we cannot tell the future, we know that Obama is in rough shape and his party is in worse repute. If the Republicans don’t blow it in Congress — a tall order — the 2012 elections should be good for the Republicans. Remember: It took the Democrats two elections (2006 and 2008) to fashion their dominant majorities in Congress. It will take Republicans two cycles to complete the work. There is no need to bend and strain to give these freshmen great districts. A little tinkering can give them a decisive edge and they may not need any at all in 2012.

After that, the new Republican Congressmen have a lot less to worry about. After two successful elections, it is very hard to dislodge an incumbent Congressman. Unless they face a 2010-style tsunami, they are likely to stay in office for a long time. And, if another tsunami comes — this time with the wind favoring the Democrats — district lines won’t make much difference (see the results of 2010!)

He advises the Republican Party to take advantage of the opportunity to solidify control through reapportionment:

It is always easy to listen to the voices of those who are in office — the newly elected incumbents — but state legislative leaders must strain to hear the voices of those who did not win, but could win next time, given good lines. We must not miss this incredible opportunity to finish the task of 2010 and convert a vast number of House seats to the Republican Party, hopefully for a decade.

The problem is that they may stay in office for a long time! Once a Congressman or a Senator wins election, from that point on the overriding consideration in all that he or she does is reelection. As soon as the candidate is elected, the campaign for reelection must begin. Getting reelected means raising more and more money: campaigns are expensive and becoming more so. So the money-raising effort requires a great deal of the incumbent’s time and attention, at the expense of attending to the business of the nation. Moreover, we suspect that a number of the incumbents are tempted to line their pockets while seeking reelection funds.

Both the desire to get reelection money and/or to line their own pockets leads incumbents to cozy-up to lobbyists, who, in providing what an incumbent needs, gain an inordinate amount of influence over the incumbents. The result is that legislation is strongly influenced by lobbyists–actually written by lobbyists in some cases. Incumbents don’t even need to read a bill if the lobbyists to whom they are beholding want them to vote for it.

Incumbency has other drawbacks. We generally look to private business leaders to exercise efficiency, effectiveness and good judgement in running their businesses. But political incumbents spend a great deal of time raising campaign money and not as much time attending to the business of the body to which they are elected. As a result, incumbents often do not exercise good judgement in voting for bills.

And what passes for effectiveness is how much earmark or other money the incumbent can direct to his or her district or state. Yes, Congressmen are elected to represent their districts, and Senators their states, but to do so with the goal of doing what is best for the United States as a whole. Creating million-or-billion-dollar earmarks paid for by all taxpayers to benefit a certain district or state–and more specifically, certain individuals or business entities within those districts or states–while the nation is trillions of dollars in debt is ill-advised at best, probably immoral.

Incumbency, therefore, is a problem in our system of government. If Congressmen and Senators only served one term, they would not be concerned with raising money for reelection–lessening the influence of lobbyists–and would have more time to devote to what they were elected for in the first place. In the event, those elected would not be able to make careers of the office.

As things are, controlling reapportionment is the holy grail for political parties. As things should be, reapportionment would be much less important.


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