BY REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-PA.), OPINION CONTRIBUTOR
The Framers of our Constitution intended the House of Representatives to be the ‘People’s House’—an institution directly accountable to the electorate through more frequent, localized elections. In Federalist 56, James Madison wrote, a representative should possess “a local knowledge of their respective districts” and remain “acquainted with the interests and circumstances of his constituents.” The House was seen as an integral part of a representative government of citizen-legislators, selected by their peers to work on their behalf, serving honorably, and driven towards solutions for a young nation. These citizen-legislators would return home to live under the laws they’ve passed, making way for a new generation of leadership with innovative ideas and a fresh perspective.
Unfortunately, we as a nation have strayed from this vision of our founders. Too many of my constituents now see a system of career politicians and elite insiders more focused on preserving the status quo than addressing our most pressing challenges. Extreme partisan redistricting – or gerrymandering – has undermined community-focused representation by forcing lawmakers to ideological extremes and exacerbating electoral complacency that causes lawmakers to focus on accumulating power rather than serving constituents.
This issue is not new, nor has its abuse been the work of just one political party. Gerrymandering is named after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who used the art of redistricting to protect candidates that he favored during the early 1800s. Prior to the gubernatorial elections in 1988 and 1990, President Reagan targeted Democratic state legislatures that gerrymandered congressional districts in their favor. At the time, President Reagan said, “The Democratic-controlled state legislatures have so rigged the electoral process that the will of the people cannot be heard.” He was referring to the decennial census from which state legislatures redraw congressional boundaries to favor one party or the other.
The goal of this gerrymandering has always been to achieve a partisan result by rendering as many districts as ‘safe’ as possible for one political party. The result we have today is about 25-35 districts competitive in the general election out of all 435 seats. Moreover, congressional districts can look more like a frying pan or a pair of earmuffs than a contiguous sphere of representation.
It does not need to be this way. This fall, in Gill v. Whitford, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Constitution generally imposes a broad restriction on partisan gerrymandering and what, if any, limit there should be on state lawmakers engaging in objectively measured congressional redistricting based primarily on party affiliation.
As a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent who spent years working to root out government corruption and restore faith in our government institutions, I was proud to join 36 current and former members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans, from the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to the chair of the Freedom Caucus – in submitting an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court detailing the corrosive effects of extreme partisan gerrymandering on our democracy.
The bipartisan support for redistricting reform is a signal that patriotic members of both parties – even those who don’t see eye to eye on other issues – understand that extreme partisan gerrymandering subverts the traditional values of congressional districting in favor of political advantage no matter what the cost. It sacrifices community identity in favor of whatever map will most benefit the party in power; a situation which can change, and quickly.
Every citizen in every state deserves the opportunity to have their congressional district boundaries drawn without the influence and gamesmanship of hyper partisanship. To that end, building consensus — Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives — around this issue is critical. That process starts by presenting a unified effort across the political spectrum for forward-looking solutions to Gerrymandering.
Washington needs fewer politicians and more independent voices focused on serving the American people. The time is now to answer their call to fix this system so we can then get to addressing the challenges we face as a nation.
Brian Fitzpatrick is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the Homeland Security, Small Business and Foreign Affairs committees. He represents Pennsylvania’s 8th District which includes all of Bucks County as well as a portion of Montgomery County. He is a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, and is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).