Do Political Crimes Pay?

I begin today’s article by repeating its title: Do political crimes pay? In the final paragraph I’ll give you my answer; in between, let’s explore.

Earlier this week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Republicans had illegally gerrymandered the state’s Congressional districts to the point that they no longer were a fair representation of Pennsylvania’s voters’ wishes. Living in North Carolina I have followed a set of similar lawsuits for several years now. Not long ago a federal court issued an analogous ruling only for the Supreme Court to place a stay on any remedy. Their justification was that it was too close to the 2018 elections. I predict that Pennsylvania will face a similar fate. The Keystone and Tar Heel States are two of the nation’s most populous states and sadly they are not alone in falling victim to Republican gerrymandering.

Politically Pennsylvania has often been described as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between. While perhaps not quite as well defined, there is nonetheless a huge urban-rural voting divide in North Carolina. People of similar political philosophy tend to live in close proximity to each other. With the advances, availability and lower costs of computing technology and predicting voting patterns gerrymandering has evolved from smoke filled rooms full of old pols taking educated guesses to something approaching pinpoint accuracy. Gerrymandering has been around in American politics since the 1700’s; it is just much more accurate and effective today.

To borrow from a cliché, I’m one of those old fashioned guys who believe in representative democracy and that voters should choose their representatives as opposed to politicians choosing their voters. To me that is the heart of representative democracy.

Allow me to use some numbers to illustrate how unrepresentative of the voters’ intentions the results of the 2016 House elections were in these two states. In Pennsylvania the Republicans won 13 of the 18 seats. In North Carolina they won 10 of the 13 seats. In North Carolina the total House votes were 51.2% Republican and 48.8% Democratic; a difference of 2.4%. In Pennsylvania the percentage totals were 53.4% Republican and 46.6% Democratic; a difference of 6.8%. How do you square that circle other than to say the system was rigged (a/k/a gerrymandered)?

To prove that the House numbers weren’t anomalies or the product of especially strong or weak candidates I offer the 2016 Presidential votes. In North Carolina Trump won 50.5% to 46.7% a difference of 3.8%. In Pennsylvania there was a similarly close result with Trump taking the state 48.8% to 47.6%; a margin of 1.2%.

The effect of gerrymandering is not limited to the United States House of Representatives. It includes a plethora of state legislative districts and now the GOP is attempting to gerrymander judicial districts.

The gerrymandering started in 2011 as a result of the 2010 mid-term election. As of this writing North Carolina will hold its 2018 election under those gerrymandered districts despite the math and several court rulings. While Pennsylvania progressives just won a state Supreme Court victory I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’m willing to wager that the Supreme Court will take similar action in their case.

In the long run I think progressives will win the vast majority if not all of the gerrymandering cases around the country that are working their way through the judicial system, but in the interim much harm is being done to our democracy. These districts were in effect for the 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections. It appears that they will still be in effect for the 2018 elections.

By the numbers North Carolina probably should have been a 7-6 split and Pennsylvania a 9-9 split. That means that the voters actually voted for a 16-15 distribution (favoring the Republicans) but received a 23-8 split. That is a seven seat swing in just two states. Keep in mind that the Democrats need to swing a net 24 seats to have the majority in the House.

Anyone who doesn’t think Trump and his family have not been personally profiting off his position is either not paying attention or willfully ignorant. Just one example is his frequent weekend golf vacations. They take place at resorts he owns. He receives a boatload of free advertising and charges the Secret Service $13,000 per weekend for golf cart rentals. That is not so the agents can sneak in a round of golf, but rather so they can protect him while he is on the course. Keep in mind that Trump played well over 90 rounds during his first year in office. The Secret Service cart rental tab alone is well over $1 million.

As to my original question of: Do political crimes pay? The answer is: Particularly when it comes to gerrymandering, at least in the interim, yes. My other conclusion is admittedly a prediction: If you rank high enough you get to keep the purloined money.

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