Majority Madness

The following statement caught our attention as one that time and advances in political science have left in the dustbin of academic wisdom:

Virginian-Pilot, April 1, 2020

One truth I often tell students: When it comes to politics, Republicans are just plain better than Democrats. . . . The Democratic Party, as an ongoing concern, sometimes seems more interested in appearing reasonable than achieving policy gains. Bold campaign rhetoric gives way to wonky limitations and appeals to moderation. Democrats often compromise before they even propose laws, as if the best negotiating tactic is to start from the middle.

      ~Richard J. Meagher, associate professor of political science at Randolph-Macon College

It may be that these words were crafted years ago from lecture notes as the behavior of Democrats in the recently ended General Assembly session betrayed a viral pandemic in that caucus that originated from a kind of “majority madness” or ideological intoxication. This was cultured in the incubator of experiencing the voting edge in both chambers of the legislature. [Your editors can’t resist noting, also, the inappropriateness of a professor’s opining to his class on which political party is “better.”]

Congressional electoral boundaries are drawn once every 10 years after a new census is released. The majority party traditionally rigs the maps to protect its incumbents and draw new districts it can control for the next decade. Control of the gerrymander process for local and state boundaries remains with the majority political party in the interim election cycles.

In Virginia, both parties have been adept at gerrymandering. In the 1970s, when Democrats lost repeated statewide elections, they still controlled about three-quarters of General Assembly seats, sustaining control of the redistricting process. Although Republicans have failed to win a statewide election since 2009, they held about two-thirds of the House seats for much of the last decade, deploying their opportunity for map drawing. That display earned a successful federal court ruling for Democrats, including a Supreme Court decision.

But the 2017 House elections bucked the trend. Democrats, buoyed by suburban population growth and dislike of President Donald Trump, gained 15 seats in the House, shrinking the GOP majority to 51-49. The Senate, which teetered between the parties last decade, was not up for election that year and had a 21-19 GOP majority.

By February 2019, neither party was confident of a majority after the fall elections for all House and Senate seats to determine which party would draw the maps after the 2020 census. In the uncertainty, Democrats and Republicans moved toward a less partisan way of redistricting that partisan legislators couldn’t dominate. They passed a resolution to put before voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a redistricting commission of eight legislators and eight citizens. The panel would draw the maps and, with the support of 12 commissioners, put them into effect. If it couldn’t agree, the state Supreme Court would draw the districts.

The Senate unanimously approved the resolution. In the House, many members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus opposed the resolution, saying it did not guarantee minority participation in redistricting. But the measure passed on an 83-15 vote that included the top two Democrats: Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax and Charniele Herring of Alexandria, the party’s caucus leader.

To get on the ballot, however, the resolution had to be approved two years in a row, word for word, with a legislative election in between. And a lot changed.

To get on the ballot, however, the resolution had to be approved two years in a row, word for word, with a legislative election in between. And a lot changed.

In the 2019 elections, Democrats gained control of the House and Senate for the first time this century. In the House, Filler-Corn became speaker and Herring became majority leader. They pushed Democrats to reverse course and defeat the redistricting resolution this winter. They embraced Black Caucus criticisms that it didn’t guarantee minority participation and that the state Supreme Court, if called on to draw the maps, might side with the GOP because most of the justices are Republican appointees.

Filler-Corn and Herring voted for two unsuccessful bills that would have altered Virginia’s redistricting procedures by law, but not enshrine those changes into the Constitution. Although both measures set up redistricting commissions, they also allowed the possibility of the General Assembly’s having the final say on political maps.

The two Democratic leaders voted against the resolution they supported in 2019 to let voters decide whether legislators should continue to draw districts. Despite their efforts, the resolution passed the House 54-46, and cleared the Senate 38-2. Virginians will vote on the proposed constitutional amendment this November.

Then, the two Democratic leaders voted against the resolution they supported in 2019 to let voters decide whether legislators should continue to draw districts. Despite their efforts, the resolution passed the House 54-46, and cleared the Senate 38-2. Virginians will vote on the proposed constitutional amendment this November.

Contrary to the observation of the Professor from Randolph-Macon, the flipping and flopping by Dems may have revealed a far more serious psychosis, perhaps ideological intoxication or insanity. There would be no compromise, wonky limitations, moderation, or negotiating from the middle. Instead, full-bore purity litmus testing guided opposition to the referendum and proposed enabling legislation. 

On this history of majority madness, Politifact (March 23, 2020) declared the Democrats’ behavior to be a “full flip.” Contrary to the observation of the Professor from Randolph-Macon, the flipping and flopping by Dems may have revealed a far more serious psychosis, perhaps ideological intoxication or insanity. There would be no compromise, wonky limitations, moderation, or negotiating from the middle. Instead, full-bore purity litmus testing guided opposition to the referendum and proposed enabling legislation.  One legislator declared:

I fear any “democracy” in which control of the legislature is chosen by judges who were chosen by a legislature that was chosen by the judges chosen by the legislature in a never-ending loop that permanently circumvents voters.

Now, that’s a wonky limitation! One state senator declared the opposition “bullshit” while another attributed the flip-flop to the fact that, having gained the majority, Democrats no longer felt a need to be protected.

The eleventh-hour assault of criticism by Democrats sank any hope for compromise but, worse, paved the way for a campaign to defeat the referendum by Democrats, leaving the high ground to the Republicans’ claim of opposition to gerrymandering. Nor has any light been shined by Democrats on their next move, should the referendum be passed by the electorate. That is, if the Dems remain in the majority.

If the Republicans gain the majority in 2020, what will be the Democrats’ position on the redistricting commission?

If the Republicans gain the majority in 2020, what will be the Democrats’ position on the redistricting commission? And some observers suspect that the Dems’ behavior was merely a false flag to ensure defeat of the redistricting commission, upon the  bet to retain the legislative majority and exercise party control to draw the electoral boundaries after the census.

On balance, the conclusion that Republicans are “just plain better than Democrats” fails but the canard may be due more to the fact that the latter are genetically disposed to flights of giddiness when they achieve a majority. Kind of a pandemical gene anomaly.



Categories: elections, Issues, Local, politics, State

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