Republicans have taken over state

Published 9:19am Wednesday, June 8, 2011

For generations we in Alabama observed the partisan gridlock in Washington as something that transpired far away in the nation’s capitol. That was probably because we were a one party state for many years. Our ancestors were determined to be Democrats to their death after the vindictive shackles of Reconstruction were overthrown. The oppression and vengeance enacted on the South by the radical Republicans after the Civil War made the South Democratic for close to 100 years.

When I arrived in the Legislature in 1982 there were only a handful of Republicans in the 105-member House. They were from the silk stocking suburbs of Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery. They could have had their caucus in a phone booth.

We all ran as Democrats out of tradition rather than philosophy. Actually, the smattering of Republicans just blended in with the conservative pro business Democrats, most of whom voted Republican for president. Therefore, we did not have the partisan divide that existed in Washington.

Around 1986 the numbers of Republicans started rising in the Legislature. Alabamians began waking up and saying, well I guess if I always vote for Republicans for president and congress I may as well vote for a Republican for state senator and state representative and even governor.

Well folks, a total transformation finally occurred last November. The Republican tidal wave that swept the nation was even more pronounced in Alabama. It washed the majority of Democrats into the Gulf of Mexico and changed the political landscape for probably the rest of most of our lives.

A very important political occurrence will soon be played out in our new Republican-led Legislature. Reapportionment of our congressional and legislative districts occurs every decade. Our new Republican super majority Legislature will have omnipotent power with the redistricting pencil. They will be able to solidify their 23 to 12 advantage in the State Senate and 66 to 39 majority in the House. Indeed, they will probably be able to enhance their numbers to some degree.

Reapportionment becomes very personal to legislators. My observation is that it will be easy work to protect the Republican majority. However, personal preservation will supersede partisan allegiance. They will first protect their own turf and then give deference to the good old GOP.

Believe you me, when the lines are drawn every 10 years they are drawn to protect current legislators. When it comes to redistricting, lines are drawn to create safe havens for legislative incumbents. Those who have the pencil make the rules or shall we say lines. State legislators have the power to carve out their own districts as well as congressional districts. They can gerrymander lines anyway they choose by using sophisticated computer data, which insures their seat will remain safe and their re-election assured.

The Republican and Democratic legislators will put down their swords and agree when it comes to reapportionment. They will both agree to make their respective districts more Republican or more Democratic. Thus, corralling all like partisans into safe GOP or safe Democratic districts. This makes legislators less responsive to public opinion since they are in safe harbors that welcome extreme partisanship. Gerrymandering one party districts tends to send highly partisan representatives to congress or the legislature, thus contributing to gridlock.

These rigid districts also suppress the vote. There is a proven correlation between safe partisan seats and low voter turnout. How can this be resolved? Not very easily. Two states, Iowa and Washington, have instituted nonpartisan or bipartisan redistricting systems and have succeeded with having much more competitive legislative and congressional races. It works.

However, politicians are unlikely to give up this tremendous inherent power. We will see them in action this year. The system will be hard to change. It has been around for a long time. Partisanship has come to Montgomery and it will be around for a while.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers’column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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