Most Americans don’t know how long it took for a notion “conceived in liberty” in 1776 to gestate. For a notion to become a nation, that is.
Eleven years is how long it took: seven years of war, four years of legal flux, before the Constitution was signed.
When that was done, outside the Constitutional Convention a weary Benjamin Franklin encountered a skeptic who had a pertinent question. What had emanated inside: a democratic republic or a monarchy?
“A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”
We kept it for well over 200 years, but the evidence is we have lost it.
We have a Congress that couldn’t be held in lower regard – 17 percent approval, says Gallup — yet most members will be untouchable on Election Day.
As for state legislatures: I don’t know what you think of those who populate your statehouse, but whatever you think of them, if they’re in the majority party it’s likely they are in seats they could hold until death, or life as lobbyists.
Yes, we lost it. We lost the representative function of our government.
How long might it take for that to change? That depends. It depends on whether Americans wish to surrender to a monarchy of many legs.
Big news on that front occurred the other day, however. That the importance was obscured by Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act does not make it less big.
Our highest court ruled that the Arizona Legislature could not invalidate the people’s will in forming an independent redistricting commission.
Voters created the commission to bring some fairness to redrawing legislative districts. Though some observers said the court ruling was Arizona-specific, the fact is that if lawmakers prevailed it might have been a death blow to similar commissions in other states, or would have deterred other states from embarking on such a quest.
Thirteen states — Arizona, Idaho, Hawaii, California, Montana, New Jersey, Washington, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, New York and Ohio — have formed them. Akin to the 13 colonies that birthed something worth keeping?
Redistricting as practiced today is the most corrupting device the founders never imagined. Campaign dollars are corrupting, yes. But money alone doesn’t guarantee inevitability. Redistricting is how, for instance, 51 percent of votes in the 2012 congressional races could be cast for Democrats but the Ds would win only five of 18 seats up for grabs.
Redistricting cuts both ways, meaning that blood feuds endure: “They did it to us. We will do it to them.”
In my career in newspapers, few events were more disgusting than Texas Republicans’ scandalously extenuated gambit to redraw districts — for the second time in a decade – in 2003, a year after gaining control of the Legislature. For them, once a decade was not enough.
The event included appearance by then-House Majority Leader Tom Delay jetting in and waddling about the Texas Capitol like Gotham’s Penguin, facilitating a plan to help his kin in Washington.
As governor, Rick Perry did his part, literally laying the lawmaking process prostrate on the anvil of partisan payback. The result: not one, not two, but three special sessions. During these, Democrats in the House and Senate fled the state in bids to prevent a quorum before finally conceding.
If anyone would wish to pre-empt further histrionics like this, it is the people of the Lone Star State.
So, too, with Florida. In 2010 voters enacted redistricting reforms to prevent gerrymandering. Reports from the Sunshine State indicate, however, that the Republican-controlled Legislature has been diligently attempting to subvert what the people intended. They will have to revisit the matter to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire.
The people of this nation cannot accept the state of legislative stasis that effectively takes them out of the equation, treating them as pegs in a game board of conquest.
How long will it take to turn things around? Hailing the Supreme Court’s ruling on redistricting as the first volley, I say we have 11 years. Let us begin the process of winning back our republic.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.