7 December 2011: Good politics means leveling the field

Good politics means leveling the field

Remember commenting as a kid about a school-yard fisticuff, “It was a fair fight”?

We celebrate the underdog who despite daunting but not impossible odds perseveres.

Pro sports have worked on establishing parity, obligating larger-market teams to share revenue with their smaller-market opponents.

We speak of a “level playing field,” the place where young people learn fair play and sportsmanship and develop integrity, as a metaphor for fairness.

Weight divisions separate boxers and wrestlers. High schools are teamed with others with similar student population numbers.

We like to brag about our competitive markets, and at times decry the lack of them.

The Declaration of Independence states “all men are created equal,” which implies competitiveness in that everyone should have equal opportunity to pursue happiness.

Fairness, equal opportunity, level playing field: They’re correlated and as American as apple pie.

So one wonders why, given politics is a battlefield of ideas, Colorado Republicans are so anti-apple pie when it comes to competitive voting districts.

State Republican Party vice-chair Dan Ytterberg of Evergreen told Courant staff writer Vicki Gits, “There is no case law in support of that concept—competitiveness—and no constitutional support.”

Perhaps, but it is the potential of the town being shifted from the Republican-dominated Sixth to the Second Congressional District represented by—zounds!—Tea Party arch-nemesis Jared Polis that apparently has Evergreen Republicans apoplectic.

Ytterberg along with Tim Leonard who lost his senate contest to Sen. Jeanne Nicholson in 2010, the year Republicans nationally cleaned the Democrats’ clock, seem to find competition anathema.

Gits writes, “Like Ytterberg, Leonard maintains ‘competitiveness’ does not belong in the criteria that should guide the process of redistricting,” which makes one wonder whether Republicans relish a fair fight and must have the odds stacked in their favor.

Contrast Ytterberg and Leonard’s reaction to the tectonic shift in Colorado politics, which happens every 10 years by the way, with mine when Vicki asked me about a similar shift in which Clear Creek will no longer be connected with Boulder but with Jefferson County in a house district, currently and likely-to-remain a Republican seat.

While I’d miss being represented by Claire Levy and connected with Boulder, I told Vicki, I’d look forward to the opportunity to “flip the district” to a progressive representation, but in the meantime would look forward to conversing with Rep. Cheri Gerou on my show.

Maybe things haven’t changed much since Charlemagne with it going back to Divine Right, the belief that the king rules because God has chosen him and Republicans are ordained by Him to rule.

Safe districts might be the bane of democracy, but they serve well for candidates threatened by the need to defend their ideas in a large arena, Teddy Roosevelt style.

Even a safe district’s minority party can kick back. Since they’re likely to lose anyway, the party can field sacrificial lambs or fringe candidates to whom little attention will be paid, and concentrate their obscene caches of cash—particularly huge since the Citizens United case—in actual competitive races.

Competitive districts, on the other hand, demand parties identify strong, consensus-building candidates who can eloquently promote and defend reasonable positions and in so doing, attract unaffiliated voters—the great middle—and, desirably, opposing party voters.

Due to local demographic concentrations—social liberals in Boulder and military and religious conservatives in Colorado Springs—a few safe districts are unavoidable. Statewide however, Colorado is a purple state with Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated each claiming about one-third of the electorate.

Fairness demands that configuration be reflected in as many districts possible.

Besides, one would think a confident candidate would salivate at the thought of going head-to-head with a worthy opponent so that on Election Day his/her ideas would be vindicated. But then, Vince Lombardi’s dictum that “winning isn’t just everything, it’s the only thing” is the guiding ethos for the safe-district zealots.

But then again, it was smash-mouth football for Lombardi and his legendary Green Bay Packers against equally powered opponents on a level playing field. Because of a good game plan and hard work, they won more often than not. No “gimmes” there.

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