compulsory reading, Political Theory, US Politics

Veto Players On The Move.

Democracy is a tricky thing. That is true not only for the Middle East, where the current US government claims to be implementing it. That is apparently also true for the current US president’s home state of Texas, where the Parliamentary opposition, more than 50 Democratic politicians, has turned into extra-Parliamentarian opposition by fleeing the state before a crucial vote this week, thereby have bringing the state’s political system to a halt but also creating the profound impression that something is seriously rotten in the state of Texas.

What happened – and what is not going to happen. According to the BBC online

“The lawmakers left the city of Austin just before a scheduled debate on a controversial rezoning plan for voting districts, which Democrats say will unfairly tip the balance in the state in the Republicans favour. They arrived in Oklahoma, but when Texas sent state troopers to ask them to return, they refused to come back. The Democratic boycott means that the Texas House of Representatives does not have the minimum of 100 members needed for a vote to be held.”

Ah, good old gerrymandering.

The Original Gerrymander'

As old as the American Democracy, and probably a neglected factor in the last, problematic, presidential election in the US. But it’s tough to say something about the electoral consequences of current or redefined state-constituencies without detailed knowledge of the demographic composition and clear evidence whether these group characteristics actually are a proxy for electoral results. In cases where demographic composition is a politically correct term for ethnic or class voting, gerrymandering can have severe consequences, as, say, the creation of Northern Ireland amply demonstrates. But as cross-voting increases, the consequences vary a lot more, and politicians suffer from an illusion of control when trying to design their constituencies. Again, it’s hard to speculate about the consequences without a detailed analysis.

However, if, as the BBC explains,

[t]he Republicans had gained control of the Texas House in November for the first time since just after the US Civil War in the 1860s.”

It seems quite understandable to me that they are trying to change that long-time history of losing by rezoning electoral districts to their benefit. Likewise, taking job-security from Democratic deputies is not likely to make them happy.

While their trip to Oklahoma increases the impression of the US being a Banana Republic in terms of democratic procedures, it is actually a smart move to do so – and just another proof of the unintended consequences of designing institutions. I am pretty sure that collective absence from the state by the minority faction was not something those drafting the Texas House Rules were ever even contemplating. But by taking advantage of that omission, the minority faction has indeed become a veto player, something their presence in the Parliament would not have allowed.

So when the Republican leader in the US House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, states that

“Representatives are elected and paid for by the people with the expectation that they show up to work do the people’s business and have the courage to cast tough votes, I have never turned tail and run and shirked my responsibility”

His anger seems to have blurred his political instincts, for by taking that leave, the Representatives are actually living up to their responsibility. If the Parliamentary rules de facto accord the minority faction a veto right, they would be negligent not to exercise it if necessary.

Whatever the eventual outcome in this redistricting battle, redrafting the Parliamentary rules will likely be up next. So, who knows, maybe this procedural quarrel turns out to become a travel industry stimulus package…