Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Party of Family Values elects Mark "Appalachian Trail" Sanford to Congress

The man who gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" is back.  Mark Sanford is about to become the newest member of Congress, having defeated Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a special election in South Carolina.  

Sanford, the sitting married Republican Governor of South Carolina at the time, came to fame in 2009, when he "disappeared" for about six days, telling staffers that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  It turns out that he was "hiking" an Argentinian woman. (He is now divorced and engaged to the woman.)

 Sanford censured, but not impeached

The Republican controlled legislature threatened impeachment, but decided instead to censure Sanford for dereliction of duty, official misconduct and abuses of power that “brought ridicule and dishonor to himself, the State of South Carolina, and to its citizens."

A lot of Republicans have raised the specter of Bill Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinsky to rationalize their support for Sanford, however, the Sanford affair is a little different.  First of all, because the GOP is supposed to be the party of family values, not the party of affairs with Argentinian women or any women for that matter.

Secondly, as a result of the "Appalachian Hike" it came to light that Sanford was playing fast and loose with the public's dime.  The state's Ethics commission filed 37 charges against Sanford, including spending taxpayer money on business-class flights, using state aircraft for personal travel and spending campaign funds for non-campaign expenses.

Where's the family values party?

Has the GOP abandoned its family values platform and become more understanding and forgiving of individual flaws, or has our country become so politically divided that Republicans will elect an ethically challenged Republican over any Democrat.  We believe the later to be true. We now live in a country where party triumphs over character and all other issues.

Competitive districts are rare

20 years ago, there were over a hundred Congressional district which were considered competitive (a district where the winner's victory is fewer than 10 percentage points.) Today, that number is about 35.  That means that about 400 of the 435 districts are not even in play every two years.  These districts are either so heavily Republican that a Democrat doesn't stand a chance, or vice versa.

We can thank the gerrymandering of Congressional districts in the various states.  Originally, sort of an incumbent protection act, a number of GOP controlled legislatures have turned gerrymandering into an art form which tilts the field to ensure the election of more Republicans to Congress.

Pennsylvania is a prime example of this.  13 of 18 of Pennsylvania's Congressional districts are represented by Republicans, despite the fact that Democrats received over 100,000 more votes for Congressional candidates than Republicans.

The PA legislature created "super" Democratic districts to eat up Democratic votes.  Take Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia for example.  Since his first election in 1994, he has never received less than 86 percent of the vote in a general election.  Democratic Congressman Bob Brady also has never received less than 85 percent in a general election since 1998.

Part of this disparity across the country is due to the fact that a lot of Democrats tend to live in concentrated population centers (big cities,) while Republicans are more scattered, but GOP controlled legislatures have magnified these population concentrations to their advantages.  The existence of these super Democratic districts have allowed for the creation of relatively safe GOP districts in suburban and rural areas.

South Carolina's 1st district, the one Sanford now represents, used to be more Democratic, but the South Carolina legislature moved traditionally Democratic areas to Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn's already safe Democratic district.

More competitive districts would benefit the nation

The problem with the loss of competitive districts is that we have lost the political center in Congress.  In districts that are not competitive, the more extreme candidates tend to win the primaries, and thus the general election.  There is no more to the center at any time, because in the 400 safe districts, you need not look for votes on the other side of the aisle.  There are enough partisans to help you cruise to victory.

This hyper-partisanship has destroyed compromise.  It doesn't help with conservative media portraying all Democrats as evil, America-hating, Socialistic, atheists hell-bent on destroying America as we know it.

We need more competitive districts through the country, because that is the only way we can get the Congress to do something productive and stop electing ethically challenged candidates the likes of Mark Sanford.