SPEAK UP: Why Partisan Gerrymandering is Killing Our Democracy.

SPEAK UP: Why Partisan Gerrymandering is Killing Our Democracy.

Hey guys – Tyler Jones here with a new segment
we’re going to call SPEAK UP Fridays. Where we take a couple of minutes and talk
about something that’s going on in the world or the state or our community. And for the first one I want to talk about
a REALLY important piece of legislation that was just filed in the South Carolina senate
by Minority Leader Nikki Setzler and Senator Mia McLeod that gets rid of partisan gerrymandering
in South Carolina. For those of you who don’t know, partisan
gerrymandering is when politicians at the state house get to draw district lines for
state house, state senate, and congressional districts and manipulate them in order to
give themselves or their political party a numeric advantage. A perfect example of this is our congressional
districts in South Carolina. While Democrats make up anywhere from 40 to
47 percent of the statewide vote, they only control 1 out of 7 congressional districts
– just 14%. So if Democrats make up 40% of the state in
a bad year, why do they only control 14% of the congressional districts? Partisan gerrymandering is why. Republicans in the legislature draw these
lines in a way that Democrats can only win 1 congressional district. How do they do it? Well, they pack as MANY Democrats into one
huge, Democratic district, so that they can have lots more Republican districts around
it. If you look at Jim Clyburn’s 6th congressional
district, it encompasses almost half of the entire state. It’s also almost 60% African-American. It strategically includes the black parts
of certain counties while excluding the white parts. For example, in Charleston County, Congressman
Clyburn represents the predominately African-American areas, North Charleston and the Upper Peninsula,
but his district does NOT include the predominately white areas like Mt. Pleasant and the lower
peninsula. He represents parts of Beaufort County, more
African-American areas like Yemassee, but his district mysteriously cuts off right before
you get to predominately white Hilton Head Island. Same with Columbia. Clyburn represents the majority-black precincts
in Columbia, while the whiter precincts go to Joe Wilson. This practice occurs not just at the congressional
level, but at the state house level, too. In this last election, 78% of incumbents in
the South Carolina legislature had no opposition. Now is that because they’re doing such a
great job? Of course not. It’s because they drew their district lines
to make it virtually impossible to lose in a general election. But under partisan gerrymandering, they can
lose. Just…not in a general election. You see, when you face no threat from the
opposition party, you no longer have to worry about representing all of your constituents. If you’re a Republican and you’ve drawn
your lines to make it impossible for a Democrat to beat you, the only thing you have to worry
about is a primary challenge. The result of this is Republicans running
to the far right to appease the only voters they have to worry about – Republican primary
voters. And WHO votes in Republican primaries? Not Democrats, not independents, and not moderates. Only the most conservative activist Republicans
in that district vote in Republican primaries. Those people, who may make up 10 or 12 percent
of the entire district, become the all-powerful electorate. Those are the people that Republican legislators
now have to appease. So how do they avoid a primary challenge? Easy – be sufficiently conservative to the
most conservative voters in your district. Which in South Carolina is VERY CONSERVATIVE. And if they’re not sufficiently conservative,
primary voters will find someone who is. If my nine years working at the state house
taught me anything, it’s that nothing scares a Republican politician more than the thought
of a primary challenge to their right. This creates a Republican majority in South
Carolina made up of the most conservative voices in our state. Now on the flip side, Democrats aren’t completely
innocent in this either. A lot of them go to great lengths to draw
their district in a way that makes re-election much easier. If a Republican colleague asks them to take
a few more African-American voters in their district in order to make both of them much
safer in the next election, odds are they’re going to say yes. And then the same thing happens on the Democratic
side. They no longer have to worry about Republican
votes, only Democratic primary voters – who are the most liberal voters in their district. And if they’re not sufficiently liberal,
Democratic primary voters will find someone who is. The result of all this is a legislature (and
congress) made up of the most conservative and the most liberal voices in the country. And we somehow expect them to work together. When in reality, working with the opposition
party will almost ensure a primary challenge for anyone who dares to cross the aisle. Partisan gerrymandering is intended to help
the majority party. Meaning, in South Carolina, it helps Republicans. In Massachusetts, it helps Democrats. Partisan gerrymandering has caused more dysfunction
in our country in recent years than ever before. And if we expect our leaders to be able to
tackle any of the challenges facing our country and state, we’ve got to put a stop to this
undemocratic practice. Many states have taken steps to end partisan
gerrymandering by putting the redistricting process into the hands of an independent commission
who is tasked with drawing lines fairly and without partisan consideration. Now, redistricting reform is not intended
to swing a legislature or congress from Republican to Democrat or Democrat to Republican. It’s intended to bring in ALL voices rather
than just the small percentage of people who vote in partisan primaries. It’s intended to make our general elections
more competitive so that incumbents and candidates have to cater to every voter and not just
the most conservative or most liberal. That means Republicans will have to go into
black churches and Democrats will have to go to NASCAR races. Republicans will have to go on MSNBC and Democrats
will have to go on Fox News. We’ll have to talk to each other again. And that’s what a Democracy is all about. Everybody’s voice should matter. That’s why I was really excited to see Senator
Nikki Setzler’s bill to end partisan gerrymandering in South Carolina. Senate bill 341 would put a referendum on
the ballot asking voters to implement a 9-person independent reapportionment commission, chosen
by a three member panel, appointed by the state inspector general. Members of this commission can’t be politicians,
former partisan or legislative staff, or big money donors. We have major challenges in South Carolina
that must be tackled – roads, education, the state pension, ethics. But I believe that ending partisan gerrymandering
is THE most important issue facing our state and nation right now. And it’s time we do something about it. That starts with passing Senate bill 341.

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