Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Aiding and Abetting Legislators

The willingness of Tennessee legislators in an election year to cram through self-serving bills that protect incumbent lawmakers and increase their own pensions reveals an unusually smug confidence in the short memories of voters. Such confidence partially results from the large number of uncompetitive districts.

That large number results from the longstanding process known as gerrymandering, by which districts are drawn, not based on natural geographical boundaries, but on partisan political ones. Politicians, both state and federal, who are in "safe" districts drawn so that the vast majority of their voters share their own party affiliation, don't mind conducting themselves in ways that should be offensive to most citizens. Political parties can usually hold off primary challenges through promises and threats to any interlopers, and the nature of the district will prevent members of the competing party from having much of a chance.

Proponents of government reform who worry themselves over whether lobbyists take public officials to dinner consume themselves with matters that create paperwork but make no difference. Reform that would bring an end to gerrymandering would bring real change to our political culture.

Supporters of what the legislators did are noting that the pension increases are reasonable and bring Tennessee into line with comparable states. That may be fine, but it does not justify the process. Average Tennesseans, who are familiar with the concept that an employee can be fired for punching someone else's timecard, should have a difficult time understanding that legislators can vote for colleagues who are not present. Corrupt processes facilitate corrupt intentions, particularly by those who have been in power too long.

Yes, that would be you, Speaker Naifeh.


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