By Tommy DeSeno
I think I need a political intervention. I’m apathetic. I can’t find a reason to vote next year in the midterm congressional races. Upon self-reflection I can’t decide if I’m enlightened or jaded. Or both. I just know I no longer care to cast a ballot.
I grew up schooled with the same civic lessons as the rest of America. Served to me in full measure was that good government is the result of the patriotic duty of voting and I swallowed it all.
I have been voting for more than 30 years and don’t recall having ever missed an opportunity to vote for a congressman.
Yet I’ve come to realize that I’ve been denied the opportunity to ever vote for a congressman.
Like elsewhere, the year after the census New Jersey gets redistricted. Some connected political sorts from both parties negotiate in a hotel and as best I can tell, decide how the parties will split the state’s congressional delegation for the next 10 years. Following that, the rest of us dutifully vote and pretend like it matters, doing nothing more than adding a façade of legitimacy to the literal backroom deal of the redistricting committee.
I lived for many years in what is now New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District (the number of the district has changed but the same suspect remains at-large).
The Congressman in NJ 6 is Democrat Frank Pallone, Jr. Pallone serves many Monmouth County residents. On the County level, Monmouth has been overwhelmingly a Republican county for decades. Pallone represents 28 Monmouth County towns and 9 from Middlesex County. However, Frank’s district has in it tentacles that grab certain neighborhoods (not even whole towns) from two other counties that are Democrat strongholds (and you can guess why).
In doing so the 6th district lumps together sleepy little shore towns in one county with industrial settings in another, creating a varied constituency where the people have little in common.
Behold the odd shape of NJ 6 that makes the entire discipline of geometry scream foul:
This gerrymandering has given Congressman Pallone, a 25 year veteran, the following safe electoral victories:
Pallone: 63.3% Sacrificial Republican Lamb: 35.2%
2010 (Tea Party Year)
Pallone: 54.7% Sacrificial Republican Lamb: 43.7%
Pallone: 66.9% Sacrificial Republican Lamb: 31.6%
Pallone: 68.6 % Sacrificial Republican Lamb: 30.3%
Pallone: 66.9% Sacrificial Republican Lamb: 30.8%
Pallone: 59.5% Sacrificial Republican Lamb: 38.3%
Pallone: 67.5% Sacrificial Republican Lamb: 29.8%
If you follow this back to when the 6th was the 3rd district, you won’t find a Republican congressman after 1965 (in a Republican county).
I understand there are some parts of America where the geography is big and the voters more monolithic, but at least the advantage one party has there is natural and based upon geography. In Pallone’s district, it’s completely fabricated by men who are diluting the vote of my neighbors and me with votes from four counties away, while the guy down the road from me has a different congressman.
To be fair, I’m now in New Jersey’s 4th District and the opposite is true. Republican Chris Smith has been on the job for 32 years. The 1962 Mets laugh at how weak the Democrat competition is against Congressman Smith:
Smith: 63.7% Sacrificial Democrat Lamb: 35.3%
Smith: 69.4% Sacrificial Democrat Lamb: 27.9%
2008 (Obama’s Big Year)
Smith: 66.2% Sacrificial Democrat Lamb: 32.6%
Smith: 65.7% Sacrificial Democrat Lamb: 33.2%
Smith: 67% Sacrificial Democrat Lamb: 32.3%
Smith: 66% Sacrificial Democrat Lamb: 33%
Smith: 63.2% Sacrificial Democrat Lamb: 35.1%
To make this district work, the sleepy little shore towns are combined with huge farming communities.
Why should I pretend that I’ve ever had a vote that counts? Why should I rubber stamp the outcome determined by 12 politicos in a hotel room after the census?
Wouldn’t America be better served were I to start a revolution against voting in all gerrymandered districts where the incumbent is untouchable for decades?
Frank Pallone (D) in the 6th District applauds himself as the sponsor of the ObamaCare legislation, so I know he has no fear of me not voting for him. I don’t blame him, really. What reason does he have to listen to me?
Chris Smith (R) in the 4th District has no reason to listen to me either. I love his strong pro-life position but he supported cap and trade. I think Chris is telling me he doesn’t have to give a hoot what I think. Like Pallone, he’s right. Enough Republicans will mechanically do their civic duty learned in grade school at election time so that he never has to listen to a libertarian tea partier like me.
I’m sure there is a Democrat out there who feels the same way I do about these districts in a mirror image sort of way.
Democracy is defeated by gerrymandering. I’m powerless. I’m disenfranchised.
Since I don’t have the charisma to start a revolution against gerrymandering and I hate knowing I don’t count, I see my best option as sitting out. At least I won’t be faking it and I get to keep my pride.
Am I right?