Governor Huntsman is pushing strongly for Utah to get its deserved fourth congressional seat six years earlier than would otherwise occur. In exchange for six years of having one more seat, it is proposed that Washington, D.C. receive a true representative seat in Congress, which I believe is a clear violation of the language of the Constitution.
It is my view (see here) that the plan to give Washington, D.C. a representative seat in Congress runs counter to the language of Article I, Section 2, which clearly limits membership in the House of Representatives to representatives of actual “States.” Washington, D.C. has not and probably will never be awarded statehood, so it fails the most basic requirement established by the Constitution for having a voting member in Congress.
Clearly, this seems to unduly leave the citizens of Washington, D.C. without representation in the House of Representatives. If this is an injustice, then it should be remedied. But it should occur through the process outlined in the Constitution itself—in Article V. That is, the Constitution should be amended.
Unfortunately for those that want Congressional representation for DC, successfully passing a proposed amendment by the votes of two-thirds of the House of Representatives, two-thirds of the Senate, and two-thirds of state legislatures, is extraordinarily difficult. Our Founders intended it to be such. But that does not mean that we should circumvent the constitutional requirement using an unconstitutional scheme that would exchange permanent representation for DC for six additional years of one more seat for Utah.
The most obvious solution to the problem is to return the residential areas of DC to Maryland and Virginia. Presto, the residents would suddenly have representation in both the House and the Senate. Of course, this would likely be a hard sell to those two states, as they would likely see it as a net liability rather than a net asset. Congress would likely have to do much to sweeten the pot.
The point is that it is wrong to violate the Constitution, simply because we think a particular provision is too difficult. Governor Huntsman’s plan would violate the Constitution for a little bit of short term political power. Let me say it bluntly: THIS IS WRONG!
I have heard some that suggest that the unconstitutionality of the provision has already been factored in by its promoters. They surmise that some court would eventually rule against DC having a seat in the House, thus, eliminating DC’s seat while leaving Utah’s 4th seat in place. If the promoters actually think this way, they are among the most cynical and scurrilous political dirt bags to be found.
The initial deal Governor Huntsman was seeking would have made Utah’s fourth seat an at-large seat until after the next census. That is, the fourth seat would represent the entire state, much as does a U.S. Senate seat, but only until after the next census. But some in Congress were opposed to this, and said that the only way the deal could move forward would be to provide a proportionate geographic district for the new seat.
Knowing that time was short to keep this issue on the table in Congress, Governor Huntsman worked quickly with his staff and majority (GOP) leaders in the state legislature to come up with a redistricting plan. The plan appears to provide a safe Democratic haven for the 2nd Congressional District, while providing fairly safe Republican strongholds for the other three districts (see here).
Part of the reason for the 3-1 safe district split is the political reality of the way the plan has been sold in Congress. Everyone knows that the new DC seat would be solidly Democratic. That’s why Democrats in Congress are willing to go along with it. But Republicans in Congress aren’t likely to vote for it unless they get a solidly Republican seat in return, thus maintaining the status quo on partisan power in Congress.
Democrat Congressman Jim Matheson of the 2nd Congressional District, who has fought in favor of the fourth seat plan, dislikes the governor’s redistricting plan (see here). Matheson is fairly conservative for his party, causing some of the party faithful to consider him a DINO (Democrat in name only). If his district were to become solidly Democratic and more liberal, he could be in trouble. Also, as astutely noted by LaVar Webb in today’s Utah Policy Daily, representing a more liberal district could hurt Matheson’s future chances for statewide office, which look fairly favorable today.
Let me make it perfectly clear that I oppose any unconstitutional plan to expand congressional representation. However, even if the governor’s unconstitutional plan fails, Utah will get a fourth congressional seat following the 2010 census. Since redistricting will occur sooner or later, it’s not bad to think about how it should be done.
One of the greatest banes to good government in our nation today is a House of Representatives that is full of members that have no competition. Hardly a congressional district exists that is not gerrymandered to favor one party or the other. While this might be good for the status quo, it is bad for the people and it does not lead to good government. Instead, it leads to congressional representatives that do the wrong things for the wrong reasons.
Ethan at SLCSpin has run a series of posts that have advocated the creation of as many competitive congressional districts as possible. If our politicians were truly concerned about good government, they would follow Ethan’s advice. In the great marketplace of ideas, we should seek to create representative situations where all ideas have as level of a playing field as possible.
The reality of politics is that it is filled with—surprise—politics. There is a constant tendency for politicians to take actions intended to increase political power. This is nothing new. However, we occasionally need to return to altruism and lay aside pure political concerns to achieve a higher good. This is what our Founders did. When it comes to drawing congressional districts, we should lay aside politics, and altruistically seek to create as many competitive districts as possible so that the people might be more properly represented.
Doing this will change the political landscape. Representatives will behave differently. They will have different motivations. Representative offices will attract different kinds of people than they do today. Citizens will become less cynical about our political process. It would be painful for some politicians to go this way, but the payoff would be grand indeed. I wish I could say that I felt that there was some hope of this happening.