Our Views: An abuse of the rules

The paintings of the late George Rodrigue, a favorite of Louisiana’s leaders in Congress, provided the mascot for moderate Democrats in national politics: the Blue Dogs.

Rodrigue has passed on, and in political terms, Blue Dogs are an endangered species too.

The Blue Dogs’ ranks in the House of Representatives thinned last week, as two moderate Democrats announced they would retire before the 2014 elections.

U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., won re-election by fewer than 700 votes in 2012 after his district was redrawn by a Republican state Legislature to make it harder on the Democratic incumbent. Earlier, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, announced his retirement; his district is thought to be a sure pickup for Republicans this fall.

McIntyre and Matheson were the two most conservative Democrats, according to National Journal’s vote ratings. “Two terms back, the Blue Dogs comprised an influential bloc of 54 members,” the magazine noted, and this year there are only 15. There is not a single white Democrat in the Louisiana delegation, original home of the Blue Dogs.

Some moderate Republicans in Democratic-leaning districts also are retiring. With them and with the Blue Dogs, the decline of swing votes in the House reflects a sharpening of political polarization in the country.

But it also represents the continued abuse of redrawing district lines, with computers and elaborate voting data, that is giving the parties the ability to game the political system in the House. Not to mention in state legislatures, as well.

In last month’s talk to the Bureau of Governmental Research, veteran journalist Steve Roberts reminded New Orleans listeners about redistricting. Political abuse of the process is a cause of the thinning of the ranks of conservative southern Democrats and progressive northern Republicans.

“This is a very serious problem, because if you are in a district where you have no fear of ever losing, you have no sense of accountability to your constituents,” Roberts said. “You don’t listen to dissent. You don’t listen to the other side. You only listen to the people who support you.”

We hope one day Louisiana will join more progressive states in adopting nonpartisan redistricting laws like those in Iowa, which draw lines based on rules instead of voting patterns.

It might not bring the Blue Dogs back big time, because voters in general seem to be in a more partisan mood lately. But nonpartisan redistricting would probably make districts more competitive in a number of states.