Back to work

One of the most shameful aspects of this past Republican Congress was just how little they were willing to work.  Good news– with Democrats in charge, the representatives of the people will actually be working again:

“I have bad news for you,” [new Democratic Majority Leader Steny] Hoyer told reporters. “Those trips you
had planned in January, forget 'em. We will be working almost every day
in January, starting with the 4th.”

The reporters groaned. “I know, it's awful, isn't it?” Hoyer empathized.

For lawmakers, it is
awful, compared with what they have come to expect. For much of this
election year, the legislative week started late Tuesday and ended by
Thursday afternoon — and that was during the relatively few weeks the
House wasn't in recess.

Next year, members of the House will be
expected in the Capitol for votes each week by 6:30 p.m. Monday and
will finish their business about 2 p.m. Friday, Hoyer said.

It is no wonder Republicans got nothing done with those grueling Tuesday-Thursday work weeks.  Rather than the fact that these public servants actually need to spend some time doing the people's work, here is the response of one disgruntled (and childish) Republican:

“Keeping us up here eats away at families,” said Rep. Jack Kingston
(R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to
Washington on Tuesdays. “Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care
less about families — that's what this says.”

A reader over at TPM had this great reply:

“As an active duty military member I?m pretty offended by members of
congress crying about working a 5 day work week. And for Rep Kingston?s
comments about families, give me a break! How about the thousands of
military marriages that have ended because of husbands and wives being
deployed for a year multiple times?”

A simple fix for gerrymandering?

One of the quite significant problems in American politics these days is that all too many Congressional districts are gerrymandered– drawn with district lines intended to clearly favor one political party.   Incumbents stay safe in their gerrymandered districts as quality challengers are scared off from a very uphill struggle and the result is very little electoral accountability and members of Congress that are increasingly more ideologically extreme than the people they represent.  The problem has gotten significantly worse in recent years as the partisan bodies that draw these lines in most states rely on very sophisticated computer databases to draw the district lines.  [Here's a great article from Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker on the problem, which I assign to my classes every semester]

Anyway, when we were discussing the issue today, one of my students came up with a solution so simple, yet so sensible, that I was really intrigued.  Basically, set a number limit to the number of sides a district can have.  If you limit a district boundaries to simply 4 or 5 straight lines (not counting a coast or state border), you dramatically limit the ability of politicians to target particular areas.  I'm not sure how feasible this would be, but I love the simplicity of the idea and the fact that it would almost assuredly dramatically reduce the ability to gerrymander. 

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