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Another Voice: We can begin to fix our partisan, broken Congress

By Kevin Igoe

Congress is broken. America is drowning in a flood of extreme partisanship. You and I are responsible.

How’s that? It starts with what has been called the disappearing center. There are several factors that have made the middle ground of American politics basically irrelevant.

First are those moderate political types who tend to be less emotional about issues, less involved in the political process and less likely to be found in the donor file of a candidate or political party.

Then there is the constant beat of breathless breaking news alerts from the cable news networks that try to inflate the importance of even minor developments. Fox, CNN, MSNBC. It does not matter which, each is all about ratings, which means inciting the truly dedicated partisan junkie.

That brings us to the internet, which I view as the major culprit in the excessive coarsening of America’s political discourse. Is there nothing that cannot be said in a tweet or in a Facebook post? The online comment section of many newspapers has turned into a battle of insults, ignorant proclamations and blatant hatred of anyone who takes the opposite position. Anonymity has destroyed responsibility.
Political emotions need to be calmed on an individual basis. Collectively, there are some things we can do.

First, we should take the redistricting process totally out of the hands of politicians. State legislatures are filled with want-to-be members of Congress. Allowing them to draw district lines is crazy. In that scenario, the people’s interest will never prevail. Never.

The result is districts in which the general election is totally noncompetitive. The only election that matters is the primary, which is dominated by partisan activists. Moderates are not a voter group that candidates worry about in a primary. Thus, we get a Congress filled with people who understand that being labeled bipartisan will get you beaten in the primary.

This is exacerbated by “self-gerrymandering,” the desire of people to live and be with others who think like they do on politics and policy. Thus, millennials migrate from left-wing college campuses to already heavily liberal urban areas. Conversely, senior retirees who think their tax dollars are wasted become snowbirds to already senior citizen-heavy conservative southwest Florida. The result is the increasing irrelevancy of moderate voters.

A nonpartisan redistricting process and Americans learning to tolerate differing views of their neighbors is not the total solution to making government work for “we the people,” but it is a good start.

Kevin Igoe is the former deputy chief of staff of the Republican National Committee and a former congressional staffer to Rep. Jack Quinn. He is a graduate of Canisius High School and Canisius College. This column is based on his contribution to the recently published “Elephants in the Room” edited by Frank Gregorsky.

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