How About Some Intentionally Polygot Districts?
Common Cause has recently released its own “non-partisan” redistricting maps for Congress, State Senate, and State Assembly. Although I liked the idea of possible turnover because some districts would have more than one incumbent while others would have an open seat, the Common Cause maps were not the improvement I hoped they would be otherwise. When I look at Brooklyn, the Common Cause lines are a mess for Congress and to a lesser extent for State Senate. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Assembly districts seem to be better, because they are smaller.
Perhaps the idea of “community of interest,” specifically based on race, is what is causing the problem. That certainly is what is causing massive gerrymanders in the proposed Common Cause map for Congress. What seems to be happening, in a country with a Black President and a city where there is no “majority” racial group, is integration, particularly among the young. Common Cause finds non-Whites moving in traditionally “White” areas and “Whites” moving into traditionally “Black” areas. And that is a problem for the way districts are thought of, through the eyes of tribalist bigotry. Thus Common Cause ends up with a mandate to create two "Black" districts, each one with a barely a majority for "Blacks," neither of which may still have a majority a few years from now. By dividing the “Black” neighborhoods into two, in fact, there may be no traditional “Black” seat by 2014. So I have another suggestion.
The heart of my suggestion is that if districts are to be drawn fairly (which they won’t be, so this is all theoretical), perhaps some should be drawn to intentionally include lots of different types of people rather than just one tribe (however defined). “Polygot” districts from which fair-minded leaders, rather than whining parochials out to drain benefits away from the common good, could emerge. That would certainly be easier than drawing tribal districts, given the way Brooklyn is evolving, and fits one idea the “good government” groups claim to be in favor of – an end to gerrymandering to produce certain Republican and Democratic seats. That is no aid in Brooklyn, where just about every seat is a Democratic seat, but could be used for other characteristics.
Basically, the goal of a Polygot district would be to ensure that the racial and ethnic grouping with the largest share of the population would have as small a share of the total as possible. Rather than as large a share as possible. So the elected official could come from any group, not just one, and would have to appeal to multiple groups, not just one. In other words, while perfection according to the rules used to draw the “Common Cause” map would have one racial or ethnic group at 100 percent of the voters in each district, perfection in a Polygot district would be to have no group at more than 26 percent if defined broadly, and perhaps even less if defined narrowly. “Communities of interest” could be created among other characteristics, such as homeownership, single family vs. multifamily, transit use and walking vs. driving, basically the way people choose to live, instead of what they look like or where their ancestors came from.
Common Cause provides thematic maps with extensive data on income, education, occupation, home ownership and transit use to identify “communities of interest” subservient to the main one: race and Hispanic origin. One of the data points is the percent senior citizen. Those over 50 or perhaps 55 are more likely to think the old tribalist way, and are more likely to be interested in voting for someone who promises to seek advantages for their own tribe against other tribes and the community as a whole. Unfortunately, nearly all our elected officials are from that generation, thanks to perpetual incumbency. Perhaps places with many such people should be mapped the old way, with polygot districts elsewhere.
Taking redistricting for Congress in Brooklyn as an example. Common Cause seeks to retain two “Black” districts, and a “Hispanic” district. As a result the “Hispanic District,” the 12th District runs from Woodhaven Queens east to Manhattan and then south to the northern part of Dyker Heights Brooklyn, gerrymandered all over the place, and is just 40.0% Hispanic. The two “Black” districts are barely majority Black, or were in 2010, and neither may be by 2015. A “White” district, their number Seven, runs from the Upper West Side in Manhattan down to Gravesend, Brooklyn, also gerrymandered all over the place. Based on a quick glance at the map, there appears to be no place else in the entire state where the Common Cause proposal for Congress includes the type of districts proposed for Brooklyn. In fact, while Common Cause claims to have had a blank slate, these districts look a lot like the existing ones. All because tribalism is assumed in a borough where a growing number of people are leaving it behind.
Instead it might be reasonable to insert a “Polygot” district would include many of the growing mixed areas of the borough, including the Asians and of Sunset Park, the Latinos there and in Williamsburg, and Afro-Americans and Whites in areas where they have mixed together, and where many are under age 50. The number of mixed-race households, as traditionally thought of, might be another marker of where the district ought to be drawn.
This might leave a single “Black bigot” district that has lots of older Blacks and is guaranteed to remain overwhelmingly Black for at least a decade or more. A “White bigot” district would extend from Staten Island around to locations on the borough’s southern rim with concentrations of older Whites living in historically exclusively White areas. A second “White bigot” district around the Southern Rim, and perhaps including some White communities where the young continue to be indoctrinated into tribal thinking, would probably go Polygot by the next Census.
Now you might object to my terminology, identifying some districts as “bigot districts.” But consider this – as districts are traditionally drawn, EVERY district is assumed to be a bigot district. With Brooklyn becoming more “mixed” by the day according to the criteria of the past, I’m just suggesting one alternative for one district. A single “Polygot” district in west and north Brooklyn would eliminate the need for the 7th and 12th Districts proposed by Common Cause to be the gerrymandered mess that they are, and would to a greater extent allow Brooklyn to have its own representatives instead of being represented by someone from Manhattan.
And adding to the principle, perhaps some Polygot districts could be created for State Senate as well.
At some point, after Generation Greed has done its damage, perhaps this city, state and country can recover. In part because those younger appear to be embracing the less selfish, less tribalist ideas first proposed by the less greedy minority of Generation Greed. Each generation has been less bigoted than the last, and it would be better if the political districting process reflected that, rather than ideas that were more relevant in 1964. Then we could move on to the task of getting rid of all the Generation Greed politicians, before BOTH our common life AND our entrepreneurial economy have been completely destroyed.
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