Reducing the incentive to gerrymander

One way to fight gerrymandering is to counteract the incentives.

Any state legislature should want to gerrymander the state’s districts for either or both parties because, with non competitive districts, the state will keep re-electing the same people and as a result the state will gain influence in Congress. That’s obvious, right?

The individual legislators in the state’s dominant party also have incentives. They need to show loyalty to their party by supporting gerrymandering that will provide an unreasonable lock on the state’s Congressional delegation for their party. But that incentive is not pure. With locked-in representatives from their party, those legislators have fewer opportunities to advance. They will show disloyalty if they challenge the incumbent, and the incumbent will remain in place so long as the incumbent wants the job. So, the state legislators need to be seen helping their party lock down the state, but then their careers are locked down too.

The state legislators might jump ship if we can give them a path to advancement. If we can create broad statewide incentives that reward competitive Congressional districts, maybe that plus the individual legislators’ desire for opportunities will be enough to make gerrymandering unattractive for the state legislative body.

How can we steadily increase the district’s and state’s influence in Congress even if the district sends a different Representative every two years?

What are some of the sources of influence that a Representative gains? In particular, do any of these benefits of office properly belong to the district?

I see four benefits of office that belong to the Representative but should properly reside (at least in part) with the people of the district:

  • District Agenda. Our district, MD-4, with its four-to-one lock for the Democrats, has no agenda other than “whatever the Democrats want”. If we have any unique needs or interests, there’s no way to know it. We need a common operational picture (COP) that any of us can use to understand and promote our common agenda. The COP will be the coordinating framework for ongoing virtual town hall meetings.
  • Staff Experience. Our Congressional staff is harshly limited to 18 full time employees. We are prevented from enjoying an advantageous dynamic in which (a) more success bringing in federal dollars lets us (b) hire more staff to (c) bring in more dollars. Furthermore, those 18 staff members gain experience in our district affairs, but we compete with the Representative to retain those staff when/if the Representative moves on to some other job. We must assert the right to pursue our own interests:
    • The rules should not and do not prevent us from recruiting, training, and retaining our district’s Congressional staff. We can curate our pipeline of interns and paid staff, develop district-specific training, and create higher paying jobs within the district in support of district affairs.
    • The rules should not and do not prevent us from profitably pursuing federal opportunities, as every major corporation already does. We can have staff who find opportunities and coordinate resources to bring those federal dollars here. It is in our interests for this effort to be profitable enough to grow to saturation. The value of similar corporate efforts is estimated at $200 per dollar spent.
  • Organizational Relationships. There are thousands of professionals whose job includes getting to know our Representative and some of our 18 Congressional employees so that they can better do business with our district. It would be helpful for them and for us if our district had a permanent organization and staff that they could also get to know and do business with.
  • Lobbying Dollars. Can I prove that our Representative will bring in more campaign dollars if s/he is undecided on an issue that’s up for a critical decision in the House? No. But can you doubt it? Lobbying dollars are spent to influence and reward our Representative’s use of our vote. That’s our money! We can’t recoup all of it, but if at some point we are undecided on an issue that’s up for a critical decision in the House, why not provide those lobbyists with a forum in which they can provide us with lavish gifts?

On balance, these four items look like a Community Development Corporation (CDC) focussed on our district affairs. While it is not possible, nor appropriate, to capture all of what we provide our Representative as district-owned resources (for example, the Representative develops his or her own relationships with other members of Congress), the Representative is working for us, and should be helping to build up our long-term effectiveness as a political organization independent of his/her own role.

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