The Buzz

February 17, 2014

‘Faction’ politics demand reform in how we pick our leaders

As demonstrated by Kansas’ all-GOP congressional delegation, protecting the interests of the minority is one of the most vexing problems in a republican democracy. But our polarized politics are moving ever closer to a dangerously polarized geography.

The Buzz

The facts, faces and hum of local politics with Steve Kraske and Dave Helling

Last week, every member of the Kansas congressional delegation — all four House members and both senators — voted against lifting the nation’s debt limit.

All said they were unwilling to extend the country’s credit ceiling without cuts in government spending. “The rate at which Congress is borrowing money in Washington is simply unsustainable,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder.

Voting unanimity among Kansas’ representatives is common, but it poses an intriguing question: Is it possible that not a

single

Kansan supported a higher debt ceiling?

In fact, isn’t it more likely that some percentage of Kansans — 10 percent, 25 percent, maybe more — actually liked the idea?

Whatever the number, when it came time to count the Kansas votes in Congress, the voices of debt-ceiling lifters went unheard.

Protecting the interests of the minority is one of the most vexing problems in a republican democracy. Remember, ours is a winner-take-all system. An officeholder chosen by just 51 percent of the electorate still casts all of the votes in Congress, a statehouse or city hall. The losing side must wait until the next election before its views are considered.

In Massachusetts, that means Republicans have no voice in the U.S. House, to the GOP’s frustration. In Kansas, Democrats are shut out.

There are several complicated reform proposals that would address the issue by establishing proportional representation in the House. Massachusetts would move to a six-Democrat, three-Republican split, for example. Kansas might have three Republicans and a Democrat.

Of course, a more accurate partisan division of House seats might not make a big difference. It still wouldn’t perfectly reflect voter preferences — no republican government can — and it would present other complications.

And keeping the two-member-per-state Senate would make reform even more difficult.

But our polarized politics are moving ever closer to a dangerously polarized

geography

: winner-take-all elections making blue states bluer and red states redder. We may become, in essence, two countries.

Traditionalists resist electoral reforms because they disrupt the vision of the nation’s founders. Yet those founders often tinkered with these problems — and they abhorred what they called “faction” in politics, the very system now plaguing our government.

They would have understood taking another look at the way we pick our leaders. Eventually, voters — or reality — may require it.

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