By Jordan Cozby
The approval rating of the U.S. Congress today is at an all-time low – about 14% – yet nearly 95% of incumbent Senators and Representatives were re-elected in the 2012 general election. This statistic alone shows Americans that something has gone horribly wrong in our Government.
How did we get here? There are many reasons for the current problems in Congress, but the most detrimental and alarming is the decreasing voice of the common voter. This is largely due to “Gerrymandering” and the overwhelming and growing influence of money in politics. These two factors are increasingly drowning out the common voter.
Of the mere 5% of incumbents who were defeated in the 2012 general election, the majority of them can attribute their loss to changes in their legislative districts. As population grows and people move, State legislatures are allowed to re-draw the districts to balance population. While this process is necessary, the vast majority of State legislatures use this opportunity to strengthen their own party’s control. This fixing of the districts is known as “Gerrymandering.” While gerrymandering has been a problem since the beginning of our Democracy, technology and greater amounts of information have made the process more specific, and more harmful.
Gerrymandering is a key reason that our Government is stuck in gridlock. Many districts are so heavily gerrymandered, that there is virtually no chance they will shift party. This leaves only a fraction of House districts that are even competitive in our elections. In most House districts, your vote doesn’t matter. It simply doesn’t matter. The decision has already been made.
For example, in 2012, House Democratic candidates received 1.4 million more votes nationwide than Republicans, yet the GOP still controls the House. In the last few state-wide elections in Alabama, Republicans generally win with about 60% of the vote. However, 6 out of 7 Congressional Districts or 86% of the State are represented by a Republican in Congress. However, gerrymandering benefits both parties, Democrats in the past and in current “Blue” states play the same tricks. We like to believe that democracy allows us to choose our elected officials. However, as a result of the redistricting process, our elected officials are being allowed to handpick their voters and secure a huge political advantage for themselves.
Also ruining our Government and decreasing the influence of your vote is the growing amount of money in politics. The average member of Congress spends four hours a day doing fundraising calls and a fifth hour attending fundraising events. Only a fraction of their day is open to actually doing their jobs. The majority of our leaders’ days are spent, not working to solve the nation’s problems, but fundraising for the next election. This problem will only continue to get worse, thanks to the Supreme Court Decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 2010 decision now allows unlimited corporate and union donations to candidates. Unlimited donations from special interest groups are making our politicians loyal to their high-dollar donors, at the expense of the common voters. In addition, Congress is profiting handsomely while not doing their jobs.
During the Recession, when most Americans lost wealth, members of Congress saw their net worth rise by an average of 25%. The growing influence of money in politics is allowing wealthy political insiders to determine elections and drown-out the voice of the common voter. For example, after the 2012 Republican Primary, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said this, “”It turned out 26 billionaires beat one.” He’s comparing the 26 billionaires who supported Romney to Gingrich’s one.
These words raise some important questions. First, it is important to know a few things about Gingrich’s campaign. He had ended his campaign on May 2nd; At that point, he had lost 40 out of 42 state primary elections. His campaign should have ended long before; at that point he had no chance of winning. However, he had received at least $15 million from billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Many say this single-handedly kept Gingrich’s campaign alive for weeks if not a month. Should one man be able to keep a candidate’s campaign alive when millions of voters have rejected that candidate? Should billionaires determine elections or should voters?
The American Political system is utterly broken and might seem beyond repair. It can be fixed, but partisanship will have to be put aside and action taken now. Many good organizations have formed to end gerrymandering and the influence of money in politics. I urge you to support them, but in the end, it’s up to each citizen who cares about the value of their vote.
The power of the common voter has been diluted, but it is still a commanding force to be reckoned with and respected. If our current officials continue in their failure to act, we must oust the incumbents. In their place, we must elect leaders who will work to return our Government to the people. The time is now and we must act.
Jordan Cozby is a Bob Jones High School rising sophomore and Chairman of the recently formed Alabama High School Democrats. You can follow him on Twitter @Jordancozby or email him at [email protected]