The good news: It’s harder to buy an election than the special interests figured. The bad news: That’s probably because voters rarely depart from their established patterns.
That’s the unsettling conclusion that emerges from a detailed analysis of the November elections — here in Rim Country and across the nation.
And it leads us to a perplexing question: Why does the common-sense, bipartisan approach to problems that prevails at the local level immediately break down when people run for the state legislature — or worse yet — congress.
Let us explain.
The voter-created Independent Redistricting Commission drew up new district lines just before the November elections. The commission took seriously a voter directive to create as many competitive districts as possible — where Republicans and Democrats alike had a chance of winning. So the commission’s consultants drew up a “competitiveness index” for each district. That index relied on party registrations — and the partisan preferences in past elections in each precinct.
Along comes the actual election. Candidates spent something like $2 billion nationally. And because the U.S. Supreme Court gutted decades of efforts to limit special interest spending and make campaign financing transparent — an avalanche of outside money roared into many key races.
Curiously enough, the rush of special interest money into key districts had little effect. That includes a flood of money into the state legislative District 6 contest between Chester Crandell and Tom Chabin.
But in most cases, the results of the election came within a percentage point or two of the Independent Redistricting Commission’s projected competitiveness index.
That means people voted their pattern, regardless of the candidates contending or the outside money flushing through the system.
The Democrats ended up gaining the most, gaining four seats in the house, four in the senate and winning five of the nine congressional seats. That more closely represents the statewide voter registration statistics than did the old, Republican-drawn lines, which had produced supermajorities for Republicans.
We’ll see whether that results in more pragmatic, solutions-based legislation in the upcoming session. So far from early statements by legislative leaders, we’re skeptical. Back in Congress, both sides seem to have returned to their fixed positions as they go stumbling toward the fiscal cliff.
Which brings us back to the second mystery revealed by the election just past.
Local elections seated an interesting mixture of low-key, hard-working, solutions-oriented officials in office — from school board, to the board of supervisors. They differ in emphasis and priority — but you can find not a trace of the entrenched and embittered partisanship that prevails in both the state capitol and Washington.
All in all, it’s a puzzle.
But then, perhaps we get what we deserve. If we elect pragmatic, effective officials at the local level — but simply vote the party line for the statehouse — then it makes sense our lawmakers will hew slavishly to that party line.
The fault, it seems — is in ourselves.