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Barbecue: America’s most political food

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Lauren Collins writes in the New Yorker:

In February of 2015, Kathleen Purvis, the food editor of the Charlotte Observer, drove to Birmingham, Alabama, to attend Food Media South, an annual symposium. The keynote session, “Hey, You, Pitch Me Something,” was meant to be a friendly wind-down to a weekend of talks. Participants were invited to get up in front of the editor of the Web magazine the Bitter Southerner and, well, pitch him something.

There were several hundred people in the room. Purvis knew that in the name of politeness she should probably stay quiet, but she couldn’t resist the opportunity to “toss a good word grenade,” she recalled later, into a clubby crowd that she felt tended to overlook, along with chiffon cakes and canning, some of the most complicated questions about Southern cuisine. She raised her hand, and the editor nodded her way.

“Men are the new carpetbaggers of Southern food writing,” she said.

He replied, “Sold.”

The resulting essay argues that “the Southern food-writing world has been unduly influenced, usurped, yes, even invaded, by a barbecue-entranced, bourbon-preoccupied and pork belly-obsessed horde of mostly testosterone-fueled scribes,” who dwell on hackneyed tales of Southern eccentricity without developing “the clear-eyed vision” to see them in a contemporary light. The piece generated controversy, though not as much as Purvis’s investigation into the racial dimensions of the practice of putting sugar in corn bread. “Honest to God, I really hate that hokey-jokey Hey-us-Southerners-aren’t-we-cute stuff,” she told me. “I’ve always said that my beat is food and the meaning of life.”

Gamely, the organizers invited her to the conference the next year as a speaker. “I was getting ready to get up and talk,” Purvis said. “I was sitting there very quietly in a corner, and a woman came up to me and said, ‘So, is it O.K. to go back to the Piggie Park?’ ”

The woman was referring to Maurice’s Piggie Park, a small chain of barbecue restaurants, established in West Columbia, South Carolina, in 1953. The original restaurant occupies a barnlike building on a busy intersection and is presided over by a regionally famous electric marquee that features the boast “world’s best bar-b-q,” along with a grinning piglet named Little Joe. The Piggie Park is important in the history of barbecue, which is more or less the history of America. One reason is that its founder, Maurice Bessinger, popularized the yellow, mustard-based sauce that typifies the barbecue of South Carolina’s Midlands area. Another is that Bessinger was a white supremacist who, in 1968, went to the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful fight against desegregation, and, in 1974, ran a losing gubernatorial campaign, wearing a white suit and riding a white horse.

In 2000, when the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse dome, Bessinger raised Confederate flags over all his restaurants. (By then, there were nine.) A king-sheet-size version went up over the West Columbia location, where he had long distributed tracts alleging, for example, that “African slaves blessed the Lord for allowing them to be enslaved and sent to America.” He was a figure whose hate spawned contempt, leading a writer from the Charleston City Paper to fantasize about how “Satan and his minions would slather his body in mustard-based BBQ sauce before they dined.”

In 2007, Bessinger, who suffered from Alzheimer’s at the end of his life, handed the business over to his two sons, Paul and Lloyd, and a daughter, Debbie. In the months before his death, in 2014, they took down the flags and got rid of the slavery pamphlets. “Dad liked politics,” Lloyd, who serves as the public face of the operation, told a reporter. “That’s not something we’re interested in doing. We want to serve great barbecue.”

By the time the news reached Kathleen Purvis, she hadn’t eaten Bessinger’s barbecue in nearly three decades. She grew up in Wilson, North Carolina, where her father was an R.C. Cola salesman and barbecue sauce is made with vinegar. Early in her career, she’d become a fan of the Bessinger family’s line of packaged foods—“handy for a quick dinner when I was working nights”—but, she wrote, in an article in the Observer in December, “When I learned about Bessinger’s history, I stopped buying his products. I followed a simple policy on the Piggie Park: I didn’t go there. Ever.” During the flag scandal, thousands of South Carolinians made the same call, going cold turkey. “I first made Maurice’s acquaintance when I was a child,” the barbecue expert William McKinney wrote, on the Web site of the Southern Foodways Alliance. “His barbecue was sold in the freezer aisle of the grocery store. It would bubble up in our family’s oven, its orange sauce as vivid as a river of lava. My mother would pack his barbecue in my lunch bag routinely, and I ate those sandwiches all the way through high school, wrapped up in aluminum foil and still a touch warm once lunch time came around.” It was as though Jif peanut butter or Katz’s Deli had become irredeemably tainted.

The Piggie Park had bad vibes, but it retained a pull on the community. For barbecue obsessives, it held a special fascination as one of the few restaurants in the country to still cook entirely over hickory wood, using no electricity or gas. One prominent Columbia resident, a black man, told me that he was addicted to Bessinger’s sauce, but that he would never admit it in public. The regime shift, then, represented a touchy moment. Some people wanted to go only if things had changed (but, if they were going to go, they wanted to get there before things had changed too much). For others, no amount of change was ever going to mitigate the legacy of a man who had caused so much hurt. Even asking if it was O.K. to return was a form of blindness to that pain. “They could change the last name, redo the building, then dig the old man up . . . it still wouldn’t matter to those who continue to carry the ‘chip on the shoulder’ mentality,” a man named James Last, of Wilmington, North Carolina, wrote in response to Purvis’s article, prompting Durward White, of Katy, Texas, to reply, “Are you saying no matter how vile and disrespectful his actions were we should move on? People still can’t move on from Tom Brady and deflate gate and that was 3 years ago.”

Barbecue might be America’s most political food. The first significant reference to it that the barbecue scholar Robert F. Moss has been able to find is in “The Barbacue Feast: or, the three pigs of Peckham, broiled under an apple-tree,” an account of a 1706 banquet in Jamaica. The revellers were English colonists, but the pigs were “nicely cook’d after the West Indian manner”: whole, over coals, on long wooden spits on which they turned as a cook basted them in a spicy sauce (green Virginia pepper and Madeira wine), using a foxtail tied to a stick. Native Americans on the East Coast of North America used similar cooking techniques. But the main thing about barbecues is that they were social affairs, a day’s entertainment for the community. Between 1769 and 1774, George Washington attended at least six of them, he wrote in his diary, including “a Barbicue of my own giving at Accotinck.”

A whole hog can feed as many as a hundred people. Barbecues, often held on the Fourth of July, became overtly political in the nineteenth century. As Moss writes in “Barbecue: The History of an American Institution,” they were “the quintessential form of democratic public celebration, bringing together citizens from all stations to express and reaffirm their shared civic values.” They adhered to a ritualized format: parade, prayer, reading of the Declaration of Independence, oration, and dinner in a shady grove near a drinking spring, after which dignitaries gave a series of “regular” toasts (thirteen of them, on patriotic subjects), followed by “voluntary” toasts from the masses (thirty or forty, on issues ranging from local elections to the free navigation of the Mississippi, or whatever else happened to be the day’s concerns). Often, the festivities turned rowdy. If an antebellum politician had wanted to rile folks up about building a wall, he would have done it at a barbecue.

Before the Civil War, enslaved men often cooked these civic meals. They prepared their own feasts, too, either sanctioned by their owners or organized on the quiet. Much of the planning for the rebellions organized by Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner took place at barbecues. After emancipation, black men continued to be some of the country’s leading pit masters, catering enormous spreads that featured everything from barbecued hogs, shoats, chickens, and lambs to stuffed potatoes, stewed corn, cheese relish, puddings, coffee, and cigars. In 1909, the Times noted the death of a man born around 1865, on a plantation in Edgefield County, South Carolina. “Pickens Wells, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2017 at 7:18 am

Posted in Business, Food, Politics

Gerrymandering Heads to Supreme Court

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Michael Wines reports in the NY Times:

The hand-to-hand political combat in House elections on Tuesday in Georgia and last week in Kansas had the feel of the first rounds of an epic battle next year for control of the House of Representatives and the direction of national politics as the Trump presidency unfolds.

But for all the zeal on the ground, none of it may matter as much as a case heading to the Supreme Court, one that could transform political maps from City Hall to Congress — often to Democrats’ benefit.

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

Now the Wisconsin case is headed to a Supreme Court that has repeatedly said that extreme partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, but has never found a way to decide which ones cross the line.

Some legal scholars believe this could be the year that changes that. If that happens, they say, an emphatic ruling against partisan gerrymanders would rank with another redistricting decision: Baker v. Carr, the historic 1962 case that led to the principle of one person, one vote.

“My feeling is that there is increasing concern within the court about the extent of partisan gerrymandering over the last 10 or 15 years,” said Richard H. Pildes, a constitutional law professor at the New York University School of Law. “I do think this is a pivotal moment — a big, big moment.”

Gerrymandering has always been contentious. But the extraordinary success of a Republican strategy to control redistricting by capturing majorities in state legislatures in the 2010 elections has lent urgency to the debate.

Today, at a time of hyperpartisan politics and computer technology that can measure political leanings almost house by house, Republicans control legislatures in 33 states, 25 with Republican governors. They have unfettered command over the boundaries of at least 204 congressional districts — amounting to nearly half the 435-seat House.

In contrast, Democrats’ share of state legislature seats has shrunk to a level not seen since Warren G. Harding was president, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in recent years, their numbers in the House of Representatives have hovered near levels last seen during the Truman administration.

Partly because of the Voting Rights Act, gerrymanders based on race are flatly illegal, but ones based on partisan intent remain in limbo.

The Wisconsin case heads four legal actions on partisan gerrymanders that the Supreme Court could consider and, perhaps, consolidate. In Maryland, another three-judge panel will hear arguments over whether a Democratic legislature gerrymandered House districts in 2011 to oust a 10-term Republican congressman.

In North Carolina, a June hearing is scheduled in a suit over the unabashedly partisan carving of the state into 10 Republican and three Democratic House seats — this in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The state representative who drew that map said he had engineered 10 safely Republican seats only “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

Experts disagree over how much gerrymandering has hurt Democrats. One prominent 2013 study mostly blamed geography, not partisanship, because Democrats tend to cluster in cities. But the most recent study, by a Princeton professor, Samuel S. H. Wang, concluded that gerrymanders had cost Democrats as many as 22 House seats in the 2012 election — nearly enough to flip the chamber’s control.

Politicians, on the other hand, appear certain of their electoral potency. Former President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., are spearheading an initiative to undo Republicans’ redistricting triumphs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and the former governor of California, is leading a movement to outlaw gerrymanders of any political stripe.

Wisconsin Republican leaders say they dominate the Legislature because they have both a better strategy and vision of governing, not because of illegal gerrymandering.

“In a year when people want change, even in a district that favors one party over another, a good candidate with a good message wins,” said Robin Vos, Wisconsin’s Assembly speaker.

But the court said in November that the redistricting clearly aimed to entrench Republican control of the Assembly. The party took 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats in 2012 despite losing the popular vote, and has since added three more.

As in all gerrymanders, Wisconsin’s mapmakers hobbled their opponents in two ways. One was to pack as many Democrats as possible into a few districts, leaving fewer Democrats for potentially competitive ones. In 2012, 21 of the 39 Assembly districts that Democrats won were so lopsided that Republicans did not even field candidates. In two more, Democrats captured at least 94 percent of the vote.

The other method was to fracture unwinnable Democratic districts, salting their Democrats among Republican-majority districts so that races there became closer yet remained out of Democrats’ reach. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2017 at 10:59 am

What Happens When Women Legislate

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Brittany Bronson writes in the NY Times:

Cheaper tampons. Office breaks to pump breast milk. No co-pay on birth control.

These are not the talking points of a ladies’ happy hour. They are among the State Senate and Assembly bills being considered in the Nevada Legislature. Not only were the bills designed solely with women in mind, they each were sponsored by a female lawmaker.

At 39.7 percent, Nevada now ranks near the top for women’s representation in state politics, second only to Vermont. The bills women are bringing to the State Senate floor this session range from the annual ranking of companies by how fairly they pay men and women to arguably the most historic — the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The state legislature is a testimony to what many who study gender inequity in politics theorize to be true: Increased gender representation directly translates into better consideration of women in the drafting of law and policy.

Although the 2016 presidential election is mourned as a symbolic impasse for women’s progress, it was momentous for female politicians in Nevada, at both the state and the federal level. Many have called President Trump’s election a wake-up call for American women, one that has inspired their increased grass-roots activism and political involvement.

Continue reading the main story

But in Nevada, the ladies were already on the ballot before President Trump’s victory. Now they are getting to work.

What spring-boarded Nevada into a leader for gender equality in statehouses is not entirely clear. A study from the Center for American Women in Politics highlights that the root of gender imparity in political representation does not lie in whether women win races (they do), but in the discrepancy in the amount of men and women who run.

A national organization called Emerge America, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, is attempting to address this problem. Emerge Nevada had nine of their graduates on state ballots last November.

Eight of them were elected.

Marla Turner, president of Emerge Nevada and secretary for the state Democratic Party, said many women assume they are unqualified to run for office. “When women come to us and say, ‘I don’t know if I’m a good candidate. I don’t have any skills for this,’ we start breaking it down,” she said. “They realize they can apply the skills from their work environments, from their involvement in their children’s schools, to the political process.”

Ms. Turner added that over the past three years, the level of interest from women who have applied to the Emerge Nevada program has nearly tripled.

Emerge does not give its trainees direction on the type of legislation they should pursue — it’s not focused on what are traditionally categorized as women’s issues. It strives to produce well-rounded candidates, albeit Democratic ones.

The expertise of this new wave of women politicians in Nevada certainly extends far beyond the experience of being female. But in celebration of Women’s History Month in March, the women of the Nevada Legislature used the session to highlight issues like the gender wage gap, family-friendly work policies and the “pink tax,” or the extra amount women are charged for items like feminine hygiene products — issues male politicians haven’t historically prioritized.

That effort, however, reveals a contradiction in women’s involvement in politics: Too much focus on gender can decrease the breadth of female candidates’ appeal and their electability, but gender equity has proved impossible to achieve without women’s voices championing it. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2017 at 6:05 pm

The Architecture of Trust

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Michael Erard writes in Craftsmanship magazine:

It is tempting to see the political strife marking America these days as unprecedented, but history shows this country riven by conflict between regions, classes, races, and ideologies for centuries. One might even say that the anger and divides of the current moment are an outgrowth of what’s come before.

Throughout those battles, antidotes to our civic poisons have always run through the American bloodstream too. Americans have continually found ways to neutralize their discord and catalyze diversity, turning them into sources of strength. In a sense, the country has made it this far because its conflicts always have been counteracted by positive sentiments of equal force: shared traditions, and shared ideas about the future.

Some of these traditions, such as the protections of the Bill of Rights, are enshrined in law; others come from less tangible but still commonly held values around core American ideals such as religious tolerance and personal freedom. In the words of the late political writer Molly Ivins, “it is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

Today, these antidotes seem weakened; some remedies might still pack some punch, but few of us know how to employ them anymore. It’s as though we’ve forgotten the basic craft of conversation.

In the midst of this chaos, projects are springing up across the country to connect people across political and racial differences in an effort to strengthen our natural defenses. “After the election, people have been coming at us with their hair on fire,” said Liz Joyner, who is the executive director of a civic engagement project, the Village Square, that was founded 11 years ago in Tallahassee. The project has already built a reputation for tackling controversial topics, such as energy, race, and faith, in public events that attract a socially and politically diverse crowd of followers.

Village Square has its roots in the experiences of three friends who, in 2006, found themselves on different sides of a proposed coal power plant—yet remained friends. “We’d have full cage-match discussions and then go for a run or a beer,” said Bryan Desloge, a county commissioner from Leon County. The plant didn’t go through, but each member of the trio was struck by the fact that their friendships survived the debate. So were their other friends. Liz Joyner, who had worked in election campaigns for Democrats and had a background as a social worker, soon became the group’s executive director and spooled it up. Since that time, Village Square has put on hundreds of events and opened chapters in Sacramento, California; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Fort Lauderdale.

“Break a little bread”

Village Square’s philosophy, not surprisingly, is centered on talking—not just any talking, but across political differences. Its website features a fable-like origin story for American democracy, which (as the story goes) was

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2017 at 6:36 pm

Charles Peters on Recapturing the Soul of the Democratic Party

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Paul Glastris writes in the Washington Monthly:

Most of us, as we get older, tell ourselves that we’ll keep working past age sixty-five, or at least use our skills and experience productively in retirement. That’s especially true of writers. But few of us will pull off what Charlie Peters has done. At ninety years old, Peters, my mentor and the founding editor of the Washington Monthly, has just published an important book on the central issue facing the country.

We Do Our Part is a history of how American political culture evolved from the communitarian patriotic liberalism of Peters’s New Deal youth to a get-mine conservatism in which someone like Donald Trump could be elected president. It’s a fall-from-grace story interlaced with Peters’s rich life experiences and generally consistent with the Greatest Generation narrative we’ve all come to know. The arguments and anecdotes will also be familiar to anyone who has read Peters’s previous books and the Tilting at Windmills column he wrote for so many years.

But as he told me when, as a young Washington Monthly editor, I groused about having to commission a version of a story we’d previously published, “there’s no sin in repeating the truth if the truth hasn’t sunk in yet.” The truth Peters aims to impart in this book is one that all Americans, and especially liberals, need to understand: An America in which the elite serves the interests of the majority isn’t a pipe dream. That world actually existed, in living memory. And there are signs, in the country’s reaction to the election of Donald Trump, that it could exist again.

Peters was a six-year-old in Charleston, West Virginia, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office at the height of the Great Depression. He remembers unemployed men, mostly from the outlying rural areas, selling apples on the street corners and knocking on the back door of his home asking for food. He also vividly remembers the popular culture of his youth—Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Stewart playing Average Joe heroes, comedies that mocked the pretensions of the rich. Over the course of the 1930s he saw the numbers of apple sellers and beggars decline as a result of New Deal policies that were crafted and implemented by thousands of idealistic bureaucrats who had poured into Washington to do their part for the country.

At seventeen, he caught a glimpse of the most brutal side of that era when the local police chief gave him a tour of the jail and, “trying to treat me as a man of the world, said he wanted to show me how they dealt with niggers. He opened a door to a closet that was full of bloody garments.” But soon after, as an Army draftee, Peters broke his back in basic training, and during several months spent recuperating in a racially integrated hospital ward saw signs of a more hopeful future. “Our laughter came so frequently and with enough volume that the nurses would tell us to quiet down. There was absolutely no racial tension. [It]…made you think of what could be.”

From there came Columbia University, law school at the University of Virginia, and a move home to Charleston to join his father’s law firm. In 1960 he ran for the state legislature while also helping lead John F. Kennedy’s presidential primary campaign in West Virginia. Both men won, and after a short time in the statehouse Peters, like the young New Dealers a generation earlier, went to Washington. There he ran evaluations for the newly founded Peace Corps, a job he held well into the Johnson administration.

In the standard telling, the decline of big government liberalism begins sometime around the Tet Offensive and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Peters fixes the date much earlier: 1946. That’s the year a number of senior advisers to the recently deceased FDR, people like Thurman Arnold and Abe Fortas, decided to become lobbyists. Few New Dealers had done this before, so the connections and insider knowledge these men possessed were rare and valuable. Arnold and Fortas grew rich and powerful—the advance guard of what would become a vast Washington industry.

Peters’s concern isn’t just with how lobbying corrupted the political process, though it certainly did that—Fortas, for instance, was denied the job of chief justice of the Supreme Court thanks to shady payments from a client-connected foundation—but more broadly with how it corrupted the incentives and worldview of those who came to Washington. Men like Fortas, a brilliant Yale Law School grad from a modest background who owned multiple homes and Rolls-Royces, set a new lifestyle standard in Washington. As more staffers and ex-congressmen followed the lobbying path, those still in government began to see their salaries, which they once considered comfortable, as penurious. (Eventually they became so, as all the high incomes bid up real estate prices and the local cost of living.)

This acquisitiveness was connected to another rising sin: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2017 at 12:53 pm

It’s time to regulate airlines again: We gave deregulation a shot, and it hasn’t worked well for the flying public

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Regulation is not always bad, particularly when a business quite deliberately downgrades its regular service to an intolerable level in order to sell service upgrades to those who can afford it. When the only guidance a business gets is the increase in profit, the public is screwed, repeatedly.

Libertarians, of course, know that when this sort of situation arises, free-market competition will result in some airline giving very satisfactory service at a competitive price, no regulation required.

That line of reasoning can be persuasive until you look at what has actually happened after airlines were deregulated. The Libertarian prediction has utterly failed in this case.

Unfortunately, regulating airlines would be impossible in the current political climate, but the overall situation in the US is getting so bad that I think the public might be ready to vote in some reform. The Kansas election today will be very interesting to see. Kansas has had an intensely conservative state government under Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled legislature, enacting all sorts of GOP principles, and it has worked out horribly for the residents of the state (much like deregulation has worked out horribly for the flying public). The state economy is in terrible shape—it turns out that (as everyone else knew) cutting taxes does not lead to an economic boom.

See: “Why Republicans Are Worried About Kansas,” a post at FiveThirtyEight. He weights the two previous presidential election votes 75% (2016 election) and 25% (2012 election). Extremely interesting post.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2017 at 3:18 pm

When states kill the gerrymander: The example of Iowa

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I was living in Iowa when it put in place a process to end gerrymandering, and I felt very pround of my state for doing it—and without a referendum or proposition. Instead, the state legislature did what state legislatures are supposed to do: it enacted a fair law. Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe has a good article from December 2013 that describes how (and why) Iowa did it:

In a locked windowless chamber across the street from the Iowa State House, three bureaucrats sequester themselves for 45 days every decade after census data is released. Their top-secret task: the “redistricting” of the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries.

But here, unlike in most other states, every care is taken to ensure the process is not political.

The mapmakers are not allowed to consider previous election results, voter registration, or even the addresses of incumbent members of Congress. No politician — not the governor, the House speaker, or Senate majority leader — is allowed to weigh in, or get a sneak preview.

Instead of drawing lines that favor a single political party, the Iowa mapmakers abide by nonpartisan metrics that all sides agree are fair — a seemingly revolutionary concept in the high-stakes decennial rite of redistricting.

 Most other states blatantly allow politics to be infused into the process, leaving the impression — and sometimes the reality — that the election system is being rigged. And it has long, maybe always, been this way. The infamous gerrymander, after all, was coined in 1812 after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a law that allowed a salamander-shaped district that benefited his party.

But some believe that partisan practice is now helping take the country over the edge, that extremism and gridlock are byproducts of politically motivated redistricting.

In the 2012 election, for example, Democrats nationally won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans in US House races, but Republicans won control of the House by a 234-201 margin — a lopsided result that some blame on redistricting.

A typical example, profiled earlier this year by the Globe, came in North Carolina, where a Republican-controlled legislature redrew district boundaries; Democrats there won 51 percent of the US House vote but were awarded only four of 13 seats.

By comparison, in Iowa, with its impartial way of drawing congressional districts, the results are viewed as a model of equity — and a model for the nation.

After the 2011 round of redistricting, the state’s four-person congressional delegation is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Moreover, Iowa’s system has led to some of the nation’s most competitive races. In a country where the vast majority of members of Congress coast to reelection, Iowa’s races are perennial tossups.

The current system was enacted by the state Legislature in 1980 in a near-unanimous vote when Republicans held control of both chambers as well the governorship.

At the time, Republicans wanted to have a redistricting plan in place that would protect the minority party in the event the GOP lost in 1980, and Democrats agreed out of concern that their own party could be the one to lose. The bill assigned the task of drawing legislative boundaries to a nonpartisan, independent agency called the Legislative Services Agency.

“This puts the voter as the primary consideration,” said Ed Cook, the agency’s unassuming legal counsel who leads a mapmaking team that also includes two geographers. “The basic concept is if it’s a blind process, the result will be fair.”

The state’s 99 counties are divided into four congressional districts nearly equal in population,with each district drawn to include a mix of urban and rural interests. From the cornfields dotting most of the state to the university towns of Ames and Iowa City, the focus is on making sure residents have a voice, not on protecting an incumbent or political party.

This is done by making population size the primary metric when determining a district’s boundaries, followed by the goal of compact, contiguous districts that respect county lines.

“Having a more competitive district encourages somebody to really try to represent not just the ideology of his or her party but to represent the people of the district,” said Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad.

Iowans say that the politically motivated redistricting in many other states pushes candidates to the extremes.

“Right now in the Republican Party you could be to the right of Attila the Hun and you’re more worried about somebody else who is further right than you are about the opposing party,” said Stephen Roberts, a Des Moines attorney who led the Iowa Republican Party when the state instituted the current redistricting system.

“People are less likely to compromise in Washington if they’re in safe districts,’’ Roberts said. “A classic example is gun control. People would rather face the ire of the voters than the ire of the NRA.”

One of the country’s hardest fought races in 2012 occurred between two longtime incumbents vying to represent the swath of southwest Iowa stretching from the capital city of Des Moines to the borders of Missouri and Nebraska. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2017 at 3:14 pm

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