Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Protect Idaho’s political minority

A commission of six citizens appointed to redraw voting districts in Idaho failed to meet its Sept. 6 deadline.

Why? Because the rancorous debates that punctuated the efforts of the Idaho redistricting commission teeter-tottered primarily over which party, Democratic or Republican, would get a leg up in legislative and congressional elections because of newly drawn districts.

Despite the fact that three members of each party sat on the commission, the fight over redrawing legislative district lines was never an even one.

Republicans elected to the Legislature number 85, while Democrats number just 20—or 19 percent of the total number of lawmakers. In the last 30 years, the number of Democrats fell so low at one point that they joked about being able to hold meetings of their caucus in a phone booth.

Furthermore, Idaho's entire congressional delegation of two senators and two congressmen is consistently Republican.

The state's Republicans call Idaho the reddest of red states for a reason—it is.

So, instead of fighting tooth and nail to protect Republicans, to pit highly conservative Republicans against moderates or to break up the mere handful of Democratic districts left in the state, the Republicans on the commission ought to work with Democrats to prevent the utter extinction of Idaho's political minority.

This may sound like one of those namby-pamby "can't we all just get along" theories that some people believe have no place in politics. It's not. Even the nation's founding fathers recognized that an unopposed majority could result in tyranny.

There's a problem with long-term, out-sized majorities. When they face too little countervailing political muscle, they get flabby and careless. In the worst cases, they may become intellectually and politically corrupt.

Minority party senators and representatives bring countervailing viewpoints to bear when overwhelming majorities go thundering toward a cliff. Sometimes minority viewpoints can stop an ill-advised political stampede or at least modify a majority's destructive path.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the state's political parties must now appoint brand new members to the redistricting commission and that redistricting efforts must begin anew.

It's impossible for any commission constituted of both Republicans and Democrats to operate apolitically, but the new commissioners should be guided by the fact that unimpeded majority rule is not the best formula for healthy government.

The majority needs the minority. The majority's efforts should not be directed solely at eradicating the opposition.

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