tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Let’s redraw the map to get better campaigns, better elected officials

Every year about this time, the approaching elections make me face an uncomfortable fact: I am philosophically out of synch with my neighbors. I live in an overwhelmingly Democrat area where Republican candidates for office have virtually no chance of winning. My votes are completely meaningless for state legislative offices and for the Fifth District Congressional seat. In the context of the state as a whole, my vote is meaningful, thankfully, in the race for Governor and U.S. Senator.

The race for Congress in my area pits Keith Ellison, a Democrat, against Alan Fine, the Republican. Ellison is a state legislator from north Minneapolis. Although the Star Tribune called Ellison a “flawed candidate,” he will win easily. History suggests that Fine will get about 25 to 30 percent of the vote with the remainder going to Ellison, whose views are the exact opposite of mine on most major issues.

Because the result is so predictable, we don’t get much of a campaign. And what campaigning does take place is largely ignored by the media. I would like to live in a place where there is a real race for Congress. Where door-knocking matters. Where candidates really have to articulate their views on a wide range of issues. Where we could all feel as if the winner worked for the victory. But, not in Minnesota’s Fifth.

The Fifth District is the smallest congressional district in the state in terms of geography, consisting mostly of Minneapolis and some first-ring suburbs. Minnesota’s eight congressional districts are distinct along definitions related to population density. The Fifth and the Fourth (mostly St. Paul) are inner-city urban; the Third is suburban; the Second and Sixth are exurban; and the First, Seventh and Eighth are decidedly rural. Generally speaking, people with a liberal philosophy tend to live in urban areas and people with conservative philosophies tend to live in more rural areas. I guess I am an anomaly.

The Sixth District seems to be the only congressional district in Minnesota where the election outcome is not a foregone conclusion. People in that district seem to be pretty evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and therefore you get competitive campaigns there. Two women are fighting it out for that seat: Democrat Patty Wetterling against Republican Michele Bachmann. At this point, the race is too close to call, although the Star Tribune gives Wetterling the edge.

I wish they would come up with a new map of congressional districts for the state. I think it is a mistake to lump a vast majority of people of one philosophy into a single district so the outcome of these elections is so predictable. I think it would be good if all the districts included people from the urban core, from the suburbs and exurbs, and from rural areas. Rather than pitting residents of these geographic subdivisions against one another, I think you could get a lot more cooperation on national policy if House members had to represent some people from all these groups. It is too easy to think of “rural” districts and “urban” districts and pigeon-whole the thinking of the Congressmen who represent them. I would prefer that our representatives be forced to consider the needs and interest of people living in all these settings.

So if I could redraw the Minnesota map into eight congressional districts, it would look like the rays of the sun, with all eight districts converging in the center of the Twin Cities. It would consist of eight wedges, expanding out from the center cities all the way to the borders of the state. Since the urban core is located in the east part of the state, the wedges on the east would be short and wide, and as the map spans to the west, the wedges would become narrower and longer. Each of the districts could then include people who live in the urban core, people who live in the suburbs and exurbs, and people who live in the country.

I think this kind of mapping would result in more competitive races, where candidates would really have to campaign and really have to let voters know where they stand. I could get excited about participating in an election like that.

1 comment:

Cathy_of_Alex said...

I feel your pain. I grew up in the 5th. I live in the 4th now which is slightly more conservative but only slightly.