Gerrymander. Curious word, isn’t it? Could mean about anything, I suppose. But if you care about our precious democracy you should know that it’s cheating – by political parties. Rigging elections by drawing election district maps so those same parties can pick their voters. In so doing, they thwart competition by making it nearly impossible for an opposing party candidate to win a seat at the table. Coupled with low voter turnout in Primary Elections, we’re saddled with entire legislative bodies – at every level – that represent only a tiny minority of our citizenship.
Democracy’s promise is – after all else – that we to chose our representatives, not the other way around. The result: lawmakers shoving legislation down the throats of the opposition party at every opportunity. Gerrymandering isn’t new – it began in the late 1700s – however it is today practiced with extra special rancor, disrespect, and secrecy.
Why should we care? Because it affects our lives every day in ways we don’t imagine. New laws are made, older laws are changed or tossed out, budgets are approved, debt is amassed. Our various worlds change and become more complex. Sometimes we view it as good, sometimes we’re outraged. But make no mistake, legislative leaders – regardless of how they achieved their power – are intimately involved. They’re sworn to represent all of us. Instead the represent small groups on the margins, money, corporate and religious power, and political ideology.
If you drink water, breath air, go to school (public/private/charter – preschool, high school, college), teach school, own a small business, brew craft beer, stroll through a park, sell real estate, build houses, work in law enforcement or fire protection, drive a car, become ill or injured and need medical care, insure your house or car, serve in the military, travel north of Charlotte on I-77 (think toll roads), weren’t born in the U.S., are anxious about ceaseless wars the world over, suddenly find new development in your neighborhood, use the library, have need to appear in a court of law, take prescription drugs, are fed up with money’s impact on our political system, repulsed by state legislators preempting local decisions, are concerned about climate change…know that legislators have their collective fingers in all those pies. At every level, they hold immense power to make your life workable or miserable.
Several issues have come up in the past few weeks, things you may have missed but all controlled by legislative bodies and with the personal stamp of money, corporate power, and political parties.
- Public utilities Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric and Gas announced they will abandon two unfinished nuclear reactors. The two reactors, plagued by delays and cost overruns, have cost the utilities roughly $9 billion and remain less than 40 percent complete. Originally expected to come online by 2018, but now estimated by 2021, cost could rise to $25 billion, more than twice the initial $11.5 billion estimate.
But here’s the rub: special provisions in South Carolina allow utilities to charge ratepayers for a portion of such projects before they go into service. Ratepayers have already forked over $1.4 billion via monthly surcharges. Apparently they’ll have to absorb an additional $5 billion.
North Carolina’s Duke Energy intends to build a new nuclear plant in South Carolina. Should Duke act likewise, customers may find surcharges on their bill for for $541 million.
- “North Carolina’s big beer distributors took smaller craft brewers to school during the legislative session this year, pouring more than $90,000 into the campaigns of influential lawmakers such as Senate president pro-tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. Berger got more than $30,000 from the distributors and Moore got more than $20,000.
The big distributors were fighting – and won the fight, by the way – an effort led by a couple of smaller craft brewers out of Charlotte to raise the cap on the self-distribution of their products, the limit beyond which the smaller guys have to pay the bigger guys for distribution.”
- The North Carolina state Board of Education approved only eight of 28 recently submitted charter school applications as board members feared school failure. Whether you have school age child, know these two things: public funds pay a portion of tuition for charter school students, and the state does not have effective oversight of charter school operations. We write the checks, but the recipients don’t have tell us where our money goes!
NC House Bill 717 was recently introduced, legislation to split Mecklenburg County into two district court districts. Since the inception of District Court 50 years ago, Mecklenburg County voters have elected district court judges in countywide elections.
Why the change? Donut-shaped district 25A will have a population that is 77% white; 25B is 45% African American. Smells fishy already! Party affiliation has nothing to do with how judges rule in domestic violence, juvenile, criminal cases and family law cases, so the intent is to return political partisanship to judicial races. The result: citizens will no longer have a say in the election of every judge who performs these duties in a court they themselves could someday stand before.
When our votes are tossed aside as a result of political gerrymandering, our voice never enters conversations about our communities. Democracy wasn’t designed to silence those who have different ideas, needs, or vision but exactly the opposite. By its very nature, gerrymandering gives power to politicians who only represent a very few of us.
At the end of the day, our democracy cannot function and thrive without leaders who care about our entire communities instead of power and control. Our legislative bodies are packed with people who have no business being there. North Carolina and America are better than that! Help us Flush GerryMander so those who will speak for the majority – from any political party – can get elected.