A Guest Post By Texas IAF Organizer Ramon Duran
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power tends to corrupt when there is no accountability; when we are indifferent to what others suffer; or when we demonize others.
The practice of gerrymandering political districts, whether these be congressional, or state house districts, creates situations in which it becomes difficult to hold those who are in power (because they gerrymandered the districts in the first place) accountable for how they use power. They are then free to act with indifference to those whose lives are negatively impacted by their actions, actions which they justify by demonizing those whose lives they destroy (e.g. the undeserving poor; criminal illegal aliens, etc.). Consequently, gerrymandering creates “safe” districts in which those who represent these districts may act with impunity given that they are assured of reelection because of how the district has been configured.
However, there is a more pernicious effect, namely the deterioration of the foundation of democracy. This is evident in the the US congress and the Texas state house of representatives. Most districts have been gerrymandered to the extent that artificially created minorities in districts can not only be ignored, but successfully maligned and mistreated, with impunity. I can think of only two districts in the state that seem to flip between the two major parties: Congressional District 23 (redrawn by the courts) and state house district 117. The fact that they do regularly flip from one party to the other means that those representatives must be willing to listen to everyone in their districts to get reelected. This has been my experience in congressional district 23 in relation to my work in Val Verde County.
.A further pernicious effect of gerrymandering is that it discourages people from voting. When people perceive that regardless for whom they cast their vote, whether for the winner or the loser, if the outcome is preordained, why bother to vote?
The organizations of the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation (I.A.F.) are taking action to confront this challenge. Organizers are working in gerrymandered districts across the state, organizing families in churches, schools, neighborhood clinics and other institutions to develop constituencies to hold public officials accountable to the people that they were elected to serve. This action is taking place in Southwest Travis County, in Bastrop County, Hays County, Comal County, Guadalupe County, parts of Bexar County, Hale County, Lubbock County and other counties across the state.
People in these counties are organizing for better police protection, for programs for children, higher wages, basic services such as sewer, greater access to health care, improved infrastructure, parks, protection for unauthorized immigrants, comprehensive immigration reform and many other issues. People who have lived in some of these situations for as many as forty years in which they have been systematically ignored by elected official because it was a “safe district” have seen that they can be effective in initiating change when they work together with their neighbors through local institutions such as churches.
They are learning to identify the issues that affect their interests, and how to act effectively to move those issues, but they are doing much more: they are in effect revitalizing our democratic culture, and will in effect, undue the effects of those who would gerrymander democracy out of existence. This takes place not in some spectacular fashion, but in small groups of ten people each, in which neighbors discuss the issues that they face and work together to identify solutions to respond to those challenges.
When thousands of people participate in these conversations in churches and schools, the result are constituencies built not around a candidate or a political party, but rather an agenda of issues that represent not only the issues on that agenda but their commitment to one another as neighbors and citizens. Even in a gerrymandered district, citizens and neighbors working together can create constituencies large enough that candidates of either party would be willing to compete for them. This will, in effect, create a situation in which those who run or serve in public office can be held accountable to those whom they were elected to serve (and not their party hacks and managers).
This work, an effort to revitalize democracy, and to take democracy back from the lobbyists, the ad men and the monied interests, requires patience, dedication, focus, and above all time: the time it takes to build relationships among the people of communities, relationships in which community members pledge their allegiance to one another, not a party or a disembodied ideology.
This is the work of the Texas I.A.F. This is our work that will lead through the primaries in March, to the elections in November, and through to 2020. The reasons why this might not happen are legion. The reasons it must are evident. This is not something that might happen; it is what is happening.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is already reshaping economic incentives and political calculations in ways not foreseen by the bill’s drafters as accountants, tax attorneys, blue state politicians and ordinary taxpayers figure a pathway forward. Here’s how (so far):
1. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate included at the last minute in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will have the effect, at least short term, of driving a higher percentage of tax dollars through subsidies to beneficiaries while reducing personal and private sector participation. This is a pattern directly opposite to the ideological aspirations of the drafters as the tax cut bill actually ramps up federal commitments to the ACA. In this unanticipated reversal, eliminating the mandate increases the dependency of Obamacare on federal subsidies and reduces the number of healthy individuals enrolled and paying full price.
2. The day after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law by Trump the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared his intention to pursue “entitlement” reform to control deficit growth. The net result may be that deficits incurred to reduce taxes provide a future rationale for slicing entitlement benefits such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
3. Charities are on the firing line of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. An estimated 16 -24 billion is likely to be lost for the good works of non profits, churches, synagogues and mosques according to credible estimates (as per LA Times). Again the ideological commitments of the drafters, generally biased against government programs in favor of private sector, non-profit interventions were countermanded by language in the new law.
4. The cap of $10,000 on state and local tax deductions included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act drives a wedge between high tax states and the Trump administration. California, New York and New Jersey are exploring multiple avenues for end arounds that will protect their tax payers against sharp increases. These same blue states line up against Trump and the Republicans on cannabis enforcement, off shore drilling and a host of environmental concerns.
5. Pass through benefits permitting 20 % of small business profits to be deductible increase the number of individuals who will seek to reclassify themselves as businesses to reduce their tax bills. The scale and scope of this end around is difficult to predict but is certain to be another unintended consequence of the legislation.
6. Last minute deals in return for their support for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act were struck by Senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake. Senator Susan Collins of Maine gained what she called an “iron clad” guarantee that health care subsidies would be increased to better protect the poor and vulnerable. Senator Jeff Flake gained a guarantee that the status of DACA participants would be resolved to their benefit. Since neither of these side deals were incorporated into the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress and signed into law by Donald Trump their consequentiality is impossible to judge though it could be significant. To further game out the implications of these side deals, in the event they are broken, it’s possible the betrayed promises will come back to affect future votes by the two aggrieved Senators.
Happy New Year!
“You can fool some of the people all of the time…”
1. The Women’s March last January launched a pushback against Trump
that has been ferocious, enduring and future looking.
2. Millennials don’t connect with Trump or the Republican far right agenda.
3. Trump’s rise is closely linked to racial resentment and fear of demographic change. People of color have gotten the message and will turn out big for the Resistance.
4. Small, phased-out tax cuts for some families will amount to much ado about almost nothing. The mega payoff in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for big business and the wealthy won’t wear well. Trump’s attempt to rebrand the economic recovery as his own will fail.
5. Republicans are freakishly out of touch with the reality of climate change, especially given the quickening pace of floods, fires and other catastrophic events.
6. Voters will wise up to the fact that Trump’s foreign policy is built on bluff and bravado, masking dangerous incoherence.
7. The young are checking out of evangelical Christian churches and rejecting their far right wing political schemes. Jen Hatmaker and people like her are calling out the old, white male power structure while eroding Trump’s base.
8. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos is very rich, seriously out of touch and incompetent. Republicans have no education plan beyond advancing the interests of religious and private schools which serve a tiny minority of students. Republicans also have no plan for addressing the cost of higher education which is a primary driver of growing economic inequality.
9. Obamacare is better than what Republicans propose, which is nothing.
10. Republican efforts to discredit Robert Mueller’s inquiry reflect the threat it poses to the Trump presidency. Danger lurks as the investigation proceeds.
Frank C. Pierson, Jr.
Frank Pierson retired after forty years of work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) as a professional organizer. He began his career in 1971 in Chicago, moved to Queens, New York City and migrated west to work in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. He resides with his wife, Mary Ellen Kazda, in Oracle, Arizona. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org