By Bartholomew Sullivan, Memphis Commercial Appeal
June 24, 2009

WASHINGTON — Voters should select their legislators, not legislators their constituents, U.S. Rep. John Tanner told a Capitol Hill gathering today after introducing for the third time his FAIR Act to create independent commissions for nonpartisan redistricting.

Tanner, D-Tenn., said the principle of “one person, one vote” has been corrupted by partisan divisions that result in Congress not addressing critical needs but instead using “one-upsmanship” and taking partisan “pot shots” for the 24-hour news cycle. He noted that the 1962 Supreme Court ruling establishing the “one person, one vote” concept emanated from Shelby County.

Tanner said that when politicians draw district lines, it often favors partisanship and incumbents’ self-interest rather than the public’s interest, and discourages lawmakers from working across party lines.

The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Mike Castle, R-Del., Allen Boyd, D-Fla., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. A companion measure in the senate was introduced by Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

Unless the law is changed, Tennessee’s state legislature, currently dominated by Republicans, will redraw congressional district lines so that each contains approximately the same population after the U.S. Census of 2010.

Former Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Edgar, now the president of the good-government group Common Cause, said that if Tanner’s Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act doesn’t pass soon, any reform will be postponed until after the 2020 Census.

But Memphis lawyer John Ryder, named earlier this year to be chairman of the Republican National Committee’s redistricting committee, said the idea of a commission “tends to pop up whenever Republicans are in a position to draw lines.” He cited the commission adopted by Arizona and a movement to create one in Florida after GOP gains.

“It’s sort of the typical politics of redistricting,” said Ryder. “If the other party has control of the process, then you propose something that sounds nonpartisan.”

Ryder added that, when decisions are taken out of the state legislatures, the selection of the commissioners becomes political.

“It is inherently a political process,” he said. “You can disguise the politics. You can change the politics. You can obscure the politics. But you can’t eliminate the politics.”

State Senate Majority Leader Mark S. Norris, R-Collierville, who would have a major say in redistricting decisions if the system remains unchanged, said he’d like to review Tanner’s plan.

“Cynically, some might say ‘well, gosh, now they want to change the rules now that the majority has changed in Tennessee,’ but … he’s introduced this bill several times in the past, so I don’t attribute any of those motives to him,” Norris said.

Claude Chafin, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said she is opposed to Tanner’s approach to redistricting because she believes those redrawing district lines should be accountabel to voters.

Comments are closed.