WASHINGTON – Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) told PJM that gerrymandering is the top issue driving the “partisan divide” in America today.
“Everybody is sick of all the partisanship. Everybody is sick of all the finger-pointing and nothing getting done, and the reason it’s so partisan is because of political, partisan gerrymandering. There are 435 seats in the United States Congress – 400 of those seats are guaranteed safe seats,” Suozzi said after a rally Tuesday outside of the Supreme Court while the justices heard oral arguments in the Gill v. Whitford gerrymandering case.
“The only way you can lose – you can’t lose the general election – is to lose a primary, so who votes in the primary? Less than 10 percent of the voters from the base wings of the party. So if you’re a Republican you pander to the far right, and if you’re a Democrat you pander to the far left. As a result, nobody does anything in the middle, which is what the people want, they want you to get stuff done and solve problems – but you can’t because you are busy pleasing the wings of your party,” he added. “We’ve got to get rid of partisan gerrymandering and make these seats competitive.”
Suozzi said addressing gerrymandering should be a higher priority than imposing term limits on members of Congress or passing campaign finance reform.
“Gerrymandering is the No. 1 problem causing the partisan divide in the United States of America today,” he said, arguing that with party extremes shaping primaries “there’s no incentive to do stuff in the middle.”
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for the “termination” of gerrymandering, which he argued has allowed politicians to chose voters rather than voters choosing their politicians.
“It’s a fixed system. You know, it’s a system where politicians are picking the voters, not the voters picking the politicians,” he said at the rally.
Schwarzenegger said that both “herpes and colonoscopies” are more popular than Congress but “98 percent of them get re-elected” because of gerrymandering.
“So Congress would never ever fix this problem because they have one interest and one interest only, and this is to stay in power no matter what the cost to stay in power. This is why this is a sham to protect the incumbent, and when you protect the incumbent there’s no competition, and when there’s no competition there’s no performance,” he said.
“This is why now for decades they have talked about fixing our immigration system, for decades have talked about fixing our infrastructure, for decades have talked about fixing our universal healthcare system and for decades they have talked about lowering the debt and the deficit,” the governor added. “They have talked about all of those problems and nothing is getting done.”
Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) said eliminating gerrymandering would create “many more” competitive congressional districts and agreed with Suozzi that dealing with manipulation of district boundaries is more of a priority than imposing term limits on members of Congress.
“Only a very small fraction of them [congressional seats] are really seriously contested in any one election and that disenfranchises most people, and causes a very low turnout especially in off-year elections,” he said.
Suozzi said partisan gerrymandering is connected to a lack of action from Congress on gun laws and immigration reform.
“It’s absolutely connected because you’ve got to please the far right, you’ve got to please the NRA, and the same thing with the problems on the left. Everybody is just playing to their base instead of playing to the people, and the people want us to get stuff done,” he said.
“Eric Cantor was the No. 3 Republican; he said let’s do immigration reform, that’s what the people want – everybody wants immigration reform,” Suozzi added. “So, he tried to get immigration reform and they whacked him out from the far right in the primary – that thing happens all the time.”