We’ve got a bad feeling about this, Poncho. Increasingly, the political parties intended to make democracy work have come to represent a threat to the public interest.
The issue came up as we read the story about the avalanche of out-of-state money likely to bury reasoned debate in the battle for Congressional District 1. Americans for Prosperity has already announced plans to pour money from conservative, out-of-state, largely undisclosed donors into the race to prevent Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) from winning another term. Kirkpatrick served one term, lost the seat to Rep. Paul Gosar, then won the seat again after redistricting prompted Gosar to move to an iron-clad Republican district. For the past two years, Kirkpatrick has represented Southern Gila County and Gosar has represented Northern Gila County.
The Republican Party has targeted Kirkpatrick’s seat since it’s one of the rare districts where the registration gives either party a chance to win. By contrast, in Gosar’s district only the primary counts.
Of course, the parties have always labored to gerrymander districts to create as many safe seats as possible — while recruiting candidates and bundling donations. But the process has metastasized since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted campaign finance laws. The court also made it easy for groups representing special interests to buy elections while hiding the source of their money.
Once, a diligent voter could at least figure out who was buying votes. Now, it’s almost impossible.
As a result, sophisticated efforts by both parties have created one-party rule across the nation. Currently, a single party controls both the legislative and executive branches in 37 states — the largest number in 60 years. That includes Arizona. As a result, the state Legislature won’t even give bills introduced by Democrats a hearing.
As a result, politics have grown extreme — whether in Democratically controlled California or Republican controlled Arizona. It’s gotten so bad the Maricopa County Republican Party has actually censured U.S. Sen. John McCain for supporting immigration reform, although he's a principled conservative.
The situation comes into stark focus when reviewing the voting record of a centrist lawmaker like Kirkpatrick. Govtrack.us charted hundreds of votes that placed Kirkpatrick right in the middle. The shock came in looking at the partisan divide captured by that chart. Every blue dot for a Democrat fell to the left. Every single red dot fell to the right. The parties now have almost no overlap at all.
This explains the breakdown of our political system at a moment in our history when we urgently need workable solutions to urgent problems.
Alas, the Supreme Court’s slaughter of campaign contribution limits will only make things worse.
We can only hope that voters will forcefully communicate their insistence on a government that works and their dismay at the systemic corruption of the system. But we fear voters will mostly grow disgusted and disillusioned.
And that’s why we’ve got such a bad feeling about this.