Wednesday, November 16, 2016

State Governments Cannot Possibly be Accused of Actually Representing their People


"People should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people." - Alan Moore

"Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives." - Ronald Reagan

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government." - Thomas Jefferson

"Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty." - Plato

The connections between the constituents of a state and the representatives of that state are a very important part of the study of state level political affairs. The question still remains, however, are those representatives actually responsive to those constituents, despite the many connections that they may have available to them? Could it be that there are certain ways in which the representatives do their jobs effectively and other ways in which they are lacking or in need of improvement? Could it be that they are entirely effective, entirely ineffective, or is it possible that they are effective in their responsiveness to only a given segment of their population, while they leave the rest of the population lacking and left to deal with the consequences of not being among the approved segment of the population? To a measured degree, state representatives are responsive to their constituents. However, it can said, without a doubt, that improvement is definitely in order. They are, in no way, entirely effective in doing their jobs, and one can be very assured that state representatives are only fully effective to given portions of their constituencies. Whether it be race, gender, income gap, or any other of a multitude of other numerous factors, there are certain people from these particular categories that regularly find themselves on the short end of response times from their state representatives. It is normally because their representatives, judges, mayors, governors, and many other officials, find that their time is taken up more and more by either their wealthy citizens, or the representatives of their wealthy citizens, namely commercial, industrial, and even mega religious interests. It will be the goal here to explain why exactly this is.

Black Insurgency and State Welfare Generosity

The work most appropriate to begin the first topic on this discussion is that of Richard C. Fording entitled, “The Political Response to Black Insurgency: A Critical Test of Competing Theories of the State,” published in The American Political Science Review. Fording’s goal is to understand why many states respond to social unrest in African American communities by increasing their access to social welfare benefits. He includes uprisings, their immediate after effects, and the delayed response time from various state governments, who usually respond with increased social benefits, but do so on a delayed time frame. He established a time frame from the 1960s to the 1990s for his pool of data. In this study, Fording discovered a couple of things that he said are extremely important. First, in states where African Americans have regular electoral success, they tend to not receive subsequent strong welfare distribution responses, no matter the intensity of the unrest that they may have caused. However, in those states where the African American vote is weaker, the subsequent release of welfare funding tends to be much greater. Another thing that Fording finds is that before anyone is offered any increased welfare, they are first beaten, arrested, and/or imprisoned. It is only after an immediately punitive response on behalf of the state that welfare benefits are then later distributed. Though the response is delayed and clouded by violence, Fording considers this behavior to be responsiveness on behalf of the state.

Now, how exactly can this be considered responsiveness on behalf of the community that was rioting? If you mean police barricades, attack dogs, water hoses, beatings, and arrests, then one might call this all an immediate response, but whom exactly is such a response meant to comfort. It certainly cannot be the people who are having their heads kicked in. Punitive responses like this are designed to secure the peace and calm of the people who actually have the most invested in their state governments, and in Southern states where race has always been highlighted, both pre Civil Rights Act and post White Flight, it’s certainly not the African American community. Now, it’s not necessarily just the white community, as a whole, for many of them are just as poor as the African Americans making their discontent known. The punitive responses to the social unrest are meant to ease the tensions building up in local business elites, who are worried that their moneyed interests in the city or state may be in jeopardy. The poor in this country are unfortunately accustomed to being beaten around a little bit from time to time. Normally, afterwards, they just go back to work and let it pass away. However, long after a conflagration is over, local or state governments increase welfare funding for the community effected by the riots. Fording would call this responsiveness, and in some weird way, in the eyes of the ruling class, it might be. However, what this really sounds like is more like hush money. Local leadership is essentially paying off the community that created the unrest to not to do it again. All this does is give the community a brief reprieve from their original complaints. Real responsiveness would have involved helping the community involved in the riots to escape the poverty, police brutality, and rampant crime that they were revolting against in the first place.

Legislative Term Limits

One can begin this discussion with the work of Christopher Z. Mooney in his piece in State Politics and Policy Quarterly entitled, “Term Limits as a Boon to Legislative Scholarship: A Review.” The piece is a review of what he calls a massive phenomenon, as sixteen states, since the beginning of the 1990s, have placed term limits on the individuals running for positions in their states houses. Mooney sees that these limits may have an effect on a number of things. He sees first that candidate’s decision making processes will change, and he sees that it might have an effect, negative or positive, on voter turnout. He sees that it might have an effect on electoral competition and campaign finance. He sees that it may have an effect on the partisan outcomes of legislative elections. He sees that it may alter the demographics of the effected legislatures. He sees that is may alter the nature of power relationships within the legislatures. He says it may change the nature of roll call voting, the arrangement of legislative committee assignments, and the structure of committee leadership. He sees that this might have a negative effect on separation of powers between houses and the effectiveness of public policy initiatives. He sees it altering the legislatures relationship with lobbyists and the state’s executive branch. Most importantly to this discussion; however, he sees state legislature terms limits having an effect on the legislatures’ relationship with their constituencies. 

In his piece, “The Limited Impact of Term Limits: Contingent Effects on the Complexity and Breadth of Laws,” also published in State Politics and Policy Quarterly, Thad Kousser offered an appealing opinion on the effects of term limits on state legislatures. He found that in state legislatures with term limits, the effectiveness and quality of legislative efforts depended entirely upon the quality of the people serving in a given state legislature. The more educated the personnel, the more complex legislation should be expected to be, and the reverse is the case for the less educated, or less professional members of a legislature. One might then look to the work of Jeffery Lazarus. In his piece, “Term Limits’ Multiple Effects on State Legislatures Career Decisions,” again, published in State Politics and Policy Quarterly, Lazarus contends that term limits have actually had a positive effect on the careers of state legislators. His data tells him that having such limits constraining their actions encourages legislators to begin looking for fresh employment before they have even left office. Further, they are able to use their experience in the state house as a boon to their experience; meaning, essentially, that they used their time in the state house as nothing more than a stepping stool towards getting a better job, whether higher in the state government or in private industry. However, he does admit that this can limit their access to the mass of the people as they move up and have to continuously meet new people. Andrew B. Hall, in Legislative Studies Quarterly, says much the same thing in his piece, “Partisan Effects of Legislative Term Limits.” He noted that long seated politicians, after the implementation of term limits, who could have had a large network of connections with their people from all over the state, were unseated by their opposition, who had no such available connections.

What does this say for their constituencies, though? If it’s the upper crust of their constituency, it may not mean much, as the person may just be moving up in the government or moving to a business related to their legislative work but still connected to the local wealthy elite. So, for their wealthy citizens, their relationship will just shift addresses. What, then, about the people who have no connections with government or the elite business world? What about the people who are too busy trying to survive to keep track of the people running their local or state governments? This basically means that they are not able to develop any meaningful relationships with their legislatures and representatives before they are already gone. One can understand why this was done by the people running the state government. Legislators who spent their entire careers in the state house could build strong relationships with their citizens, local industries, and other branches of the government, giving them a great deal of influence over how the state legislature, and therefore, the state, was going to be run. They would also be much more likely to develop positive relationships with the populace, which could block lucrative investment deals in the state that the people did not want, whether it be because they were job killers or environmentally unsafe. Career politicians had the ability to be more responsive to their constituents, as opposed to term limited politicians who are more responsive to the wealthy elite and the industrialists that donate to their campaigns, and later, give them high paying jobs. This normally results in the implementation of policies that are not popular amongst the general populace, a sign that legislators are not responding to the needs of all of their constituents. Consider the present crisis with the Dakota Access Pipeline, approved by state legislators who have no clue what real affects such a project will have on the livelihoods of their Native American constituents at the Standing Rock Reservation and other locations.

State Judicial Elections

The common notion in American politics is that judges, whether they work at the municipal level, state level, in the federal circuit, or on the Supreme Court, are supposed to be impartial arbiters of justice. When people think of judicial rulings they think of someone who has been trained in the study of the law, someone who has been working in the law field their whole lives, and someone who is prepared to dispense justice free from any corruptive outside influences. This is supposed to be someone who is objective, unbiased, and who will make fair just decisions based on existing statutes. The theory of judicial behavior that actually adheres to this is the Legal Model. One cane get more information on this in Frank B. Cross', "Decision Making in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals," published in the California Law Review. Another theory of judicial behavior is the Behavioralist Model, which suggests that judges behave the way that they do because of a genuine desire to possess a greater empirical understanding of the scientific process in which they are involved. Ovid C. Lewis outlines the intricacies of this model in, "Systems Theory and Judicial Behavioralism," published in the Case Western Law Review. There, of course, then is the Attitudinal Model, which argues that justices are not necessarily the impartial arbiters that they have been made out to be. Rather, they are human beings just like the rest of the people on Earth and are just as likely to make rulings in court cases based upon their personal beliefs, ideological attitudes, and social values, as they are they the individual merits of a case. Jeffrey A. Segal and Harold J. Spaeth developed the theory over a period of almost thirty years and have managed to create a ninety percent accuracy rating in their predictions. They study, specifically, the United States Supreme Court. Though attempts have been made to apply the theory to lower levels of the American judiciary, especially state supreme courts who are appointed rather than elected, more work is needed. They admit, though, that more research may eventually bridge this gap. They thoroughly outline this model in their book, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited.

What, then, is to be said about judges who are forced to campaign for money, speak at special events, and interrupt their hearing schedules in their effort win reelection to their post, or some higher post to which they seek election? Are these people going to be unbiased arbiters of justice, bench based social scientists, human beings with natural flaws who are influenced by their own attitudes, beliefs, and values, or are they going to be people who have abandoned their values and given up their desire to protect the integrity of the law? Will they find themselves firmly beholden to their campaign donors at the expense of the people? This would seem to be very likely. So, is it true? Are elected justices less interested in the needs of their constituents and more in interested in the needs of their largest donors? Joanna M. Shepherd says this is so in her piece entitled, “Money, Politics, and Impartial Justice,” published in the Duke Law Review. In the section entitled, “Empirical Analysis of the Impact of Campaign Contributions on Judges’ Voting.” In her research, she found a positive correlation between high campaign contributions and favorable court rulings for business associations, insurance companies, and lawyer groups. She found a negative correlation for organizations with smaller donations and rulings in their cases. Labor groups and medical organizations tended to find themselves regularly on the short end of the stick. Fear not, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has a plan to help resolve this issue. She would institute state level Judicial Nominating Commissions. All judges would be appointed by their Governor. They would all be subject to routine performance evaluations by their state houses, and finally, they would face statewide retention elections. This is outlined in, "The O'Connor Judicial Selection Plan," which can be viewed on the website of the The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. This is nice and all, but in the meantime, what happens to the people in those states with elected judges who are beholden to major corporations or rich local donors? They find themselves unrepresented, and possibly, even incarcerated.

Gerrymandering and Racial Bias

So what is gerrymandering? It is, essentially, the artificial and intentional redrawing of congressional districts, whether at the state or federal level, such that the person that wins the representative election from that district is almost assured to be of a certain political party. What is more important to know is that gerrymandering is not an old concept. Many scholars have studied the topic as if it just suddenly appeared as a political tool related to the political upheaval of the 1960s; whereas, the truth is that gerrymandering is something that has been going on in American politics for a very long time. There were early legal cases against the state of Massachusetts in the early 19th Century, and there were even legitimate accusations made against the Tammany Hall crowd for redrawing precinct districts to ensure their continued dominance of the government of the city of New York. Further, gerrymandering is not something that can be slammed as a charge of impropriety or political corruption against any one political party because history has shown that all majority parties in the United States from Federalists, to Whigs, to Jeffersonian-Democrats, to Republicans, to modern Democrats, and back to the Republicans, have used the artificial redrawing of representative districts to benefit their own majorities in city governments, state governments, and the federal government. Once they get in power, they have all sought to retain that power, and gerrymandering, despite multiple attempts to break the states from using the tool, is a way to help make that happen. For more information on the use of gerrymandering in American politics look to Partisan Gerrymandering and the Construction of American Democracy, by Erik J. Engstrom.

So, now, who exactly is it that these people were drawing these skewed representative districts to protect themselves from? The original group from which the Tammany hall bunch sought to protect themselves was the Whig Party, along with African Americans, the Irish, early Italian immigrants, and even Jewish immigrants, all whom the Whig party would use to garner extra votes in their efforts to unseat the Tammany Hall political machine from its bastion of power in New York City. There are also innumerable examples of the Whigs doing the same thing in other parts of the North to keep South leaning Democrats from gaining strength in their states. Later, to ensure that they could keep Reconstruction alive, the post Civil War Republicans were found to be doing the same thing. Forward to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a massive regional political reversal that began in the 1970s and was completed by the turn of the century, has taken place. As a result, the Republicans are now the biggest culprits of this practice. If one were not sickened by the purpose of the redrawn districts, one might call them downright artistic in their shape and form. However, their purpose is nefarious enough that laughter would be beyond inappropriate. Despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and subsequent amendments to the law, states like Texas and Georgia, and others, have drawn representative districts in their states in such a way that African American voters, known to vote Democrat, are able to secure very little impact on state elections. The same goes for Latinos. The only compensation that some states attempt to give them is pre-drawn “Majority Black” or "Majority Latino" districts, which, ultimately, marginalize their votes even further. Thus, states such as these have a system set to intentionally under represent one group of people and over represent another. Who are they wanting to be most responsive to, then? This is, of course, Caucasians. In state elections, such as these, where their gerrymandered districts are in full operation, there are some scholars who will say that race did not play a big role in the outcome of the subsequent elections, but is that not just exactly what the gerrymandered districts are trying produce in the first place? Their job is to marginalize, and leave intentionally under represented, the African American and Latino vote, and it has succeeded in doing just that. The various places where this tool has been implemented are further explored in, “Racial Redistricting and Realignment in Southern State Legislatures,” published by David Lublin and Steven Voss in the American Journal of Political Science. It is also clear that in states such as these, where reform is demanded, the elites tend to resist it. They do not want to give more of a voice to the people that they know could very possibly unseat them if they were appropriately represented in their home electoral districts. The African American and Latino populations in such states are not represented. Carline J. Tolbert, Daniel A. Smith, and John C. Green explore this in, “Strategic Voting and Legislative Redistricting Reform: District and Statewide Representational Winners and Losers,” published in Political Research Quarterly.

Voter ID Laws

There is yet another controversial set of laws that varying states use, Texas being one of the first, which some people will defend as legitimate attempts to stem what they think are rising attempts to defraud the American election system. Others will argue that the laws are directly targeting minorities in the United States to get keep them from voting. The biggest minority in this case would be Hispanic Americans, namely because of the supposed undocumented immigration crisis. The express intent of such laws as these is to supplement gerrymandering laws. They are meant to continuously shrink the eligible voter pool so that the elites of a given society can secure their political position. Further, it increases, even further, the number of people who are not represented by their government. Now, as it has been said before, there are people who are represented by their politicians after this is all said and done, but it is the business elites, the socially wealthy, and the racially correct. There exists an imbalance where the top feels supported and the bottom is becoming further and further marginalized. How much longer can that last before it become a serious social problem? The problem persists, while more people go unrepresented, yet nothing is done to correct the malady. Marjorie Randon Hershey explores the dangers and consequences of Voter-ID Laws in “What We Know about Voter-ID Laws, Registration, and Turnout,” published in Political Science and Politics.

Conclusion

So, how exactly can someone feel represented after a riotous social outburst when the very thing that they rioted about is what is done to them in return? Worse, how can they feel represented when their only recompense was hush money, in the form of increased welfare benefits only delivered years after their anger tipped the scale? Would not jobs that can pay life sustaining wages and few to no more police beatings of innocent people be more appropriate? Second, how can someone feel more represented when their leadership has moved on to another job before their constituents really ever got a chance to get to know them? Third, how can someone feel represented when they know that their judges are beholden to their donors and not the people who voted for them, if that was anyone other than their donors to begin with? How could they possibly be confident that they would receive justice in a judicial hearing? Fourth, how can someone feel represented by their government when they know that their vote has been intentionally marginalized by the drawing of insane voter precinct boundaries? Fifth, how can someone feel represented when they could be dropped from voters rolls and forced to reregister, possibly missing important deadlines, for no other reason than that they look like someone who could possibly be a threat to national security or someone’s political position? Finally, how can people feel represented when they know that their entire government has been purchased. In Texas, in 2014, the spending in the state elections exceeded over $100 million. Worse, this is just one state. How great must the combined expense be for such state elections across the country? The truth is that most people can’t and don’t feel represented because the United States government, its state governments, and their wealthy backers have worked very hard to make sure that they remain unrepresented.

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