Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Jean Schmidt elected to lifetime appointment as U.S. Congresswoman from Ohio

Most of you have probably learned by now that Republican Jean Schmidt defeated Democrat Paul Hackett yesterday in a heavily Republican district in the Republican state of Ohio. No surprise there.

But for those who go around with their glasses half full or are in the manic phase of their bipolar disorder, yesterday's outcome has been taken as a sign of "hope." Paul Hackett won a greater percentage of the vote (48%) than any Democrat in living memory in a district that went 2 to 1 for Bush. And he did it despite a half-million dollar TV blitz paid for by the Republican National Congressional Committee.

But the bottom line is that Hackett lost and Jean Schmidt has just secured for herself a lifetime appointment to represent Ohio's 2nd district in Congress, because if a Democrat of Hackett's caliber can't win in the current climate, a Democrat can't win there—period. The only way Schmidt can be unseated is by losing to another Republican in a primary or get hit by a truck, whichever comes first.

Another cause for despair is the superior organization of the Republican party in the final moments of the campaign. Fascists are famous for getting the trains to run on time, but the Democrats had better get their own storm-troopers organized if they ever hope to win another election. (I know. Liberals don't want to be like them—they'd rather be high-minded and powerless.)

Howard Wilkinson of the Cincinnati Enquirer describes the Republican effort—

Republican phone bank operations in all seven counties were calling GOP voters and urging them to go to the polls.

Even the Butler County Republican Party, which isn't in the 2nd District, had a crew of Miami University Republicans phoning GOP voters in the 2nd District.

By the middle of last week ... the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) landed in southern Ohio with both feet, pouring more than a half-million dollars into TV advertising claiming Hackett wanted to raise taxes.

Hackett also got the attention of the Ohio Republican Party, which sent its entire field staff to the 2nd District to set up phone bank operations in all seven counties of the district.

Here's how Wilkinson describes the Democratic effort—

Dave Lane, the Clermont County Democratic chairman, said his party organization had about 20 canvassers roaming Miami Township, Schmidt's home base, with targeted lists of Democratic voters they were contacting to get them out to vote.

"The good news is that most of the people they contacted had already voted, Lane said.

The bad news is that most of the people the canvassers contacted had already voted. What the hell difference did they make?

Keep in mind that this represents the Democratic effort in only one county, and it is to be hoped that there were efforts in other counties that reporter Wilkinson simply failed to mention. But I fear that it was because there wasn't much to talk about.

The real reason Hackett lost the election

But put my carping aside and consider why Hackett really lost—the gerrymander. To gerrymander is defined as "to divide (a State) into districts for the choice of representatives, in an unnatural and unfair way, with a view to give a political party an advantage over its opponent."

Now don't tell me that the Democrats have done that too. I know that. But the Republicans have taken the practice to new heights and to the point where there can be only a pretense of democracy. (Turnout in this race was 25%, which was considered "good." There really was no point in voting.)

Take a look at the Ohio Congressional districts. My, oh my. These districts were drawn by a 5-member Apportionment Board controlled by the Republicans.

District 2 (at the bottom of the map) has been drawn in a U shape and excludes Highland County. Now note that while District 2 as currently drawn went for Bush by 64%, in Highland County Bush also won but only by 50.82% to 48.72%.

Can you doubt that if a portion of Highland County had been included in the district, Hackett would have left Schmidt at home clipping coupons?

The fact is that of incumbent U.S. Representatives who choose to run for reelection, from 95% to 98% of them will win. The primary reason for this is the ignorance of the American electorate. An incumbent Representative has "name recognition." Since most Americans in a voting booth are more likely to vote for someone whom they've at least heard of, the incumbent enjoys an enormous advantage. (Of course, if the incumbent should do something so bad that it makes the nightly news, that name recognition can turn into a reason for defeat.)

But in the Ohio race there was no incumbent. And here is where we see the effects of the other great factor that controls our undemocratic elections—the drawing of voting districts.

The gerrymander is not a "threat" to democracy. It is a mechanism already in place to maintain one-party power. Voting-machine fraud is a threat; voter intimidation is a threat; dirty tricks are a threat. But the gerrymander is not a threat; it is a fait accompli.

Those who still want or hope to resurrect representative democracy must start here. Without eliminating the gerrymander, very little can be done.

Follow-up post
Some feedback on the Ohio election (8/5/08)

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