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Legislatively Speaking

Lena C. Taylor

“How can it be that successful, distinguished people—take [former New York State Gov.] Eliot Spitzer, who I think was a true civil servant when he started out his career with good intentions—turn corrupt? At the same time, you have other successful people, like Mother Theresa, who don’t become corrupt. What distinguishes between these two types of successful people?” I remember reading questions, posed by Amos Schurr, in an article a few years ago and today, the significance seems more relevant than ever.

In 2016, there was a study performed by Amos Schurr, a business and management professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Ilana Ritov, a psychologist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in which they looked at whether winning a competition predicted dishonest behavior. The thing that caught my eye, when reading the article in the Scientific American, is that the author chose to open up with the question about a legislator. I was certainly intrigued to understand what science could tell us about why once elected, some politicians are willing to cheat to stay in power. an anyone say Redistricting!

Schurr and Ritov found that when people win a competition, in which success is measured by social comparison rather than by a fixed standard, they are more likely to engage in unrelated unethical behavior. Or simply put, cheating is used to maintain power.

Recent rumors about whether Wisconsin Republican state legislators would try to circumvent the current process of drawing political maps, by finding ways to avoid a signature of the democratic governor, brought to mind Schurr’s question. It is no longer enough to present your political ideology, attempt to rally support for those ideas, and run for office. Today, you must also use current political power to tip the scales in your favor, decimating the idea of one man, one vote. However, we can never give up on the practice of fair political elections. There is too much at stake when you realize that electoral district boundaries are being drawn purely for political gain and control. To demonstrate that concern, we should all take note of the study “Extreme Maps” done by the Brenan Center for Justice, which found that Republicans took control of 17 seats in Congress in 2016 directly through gerrymandered maps.

To be fair, Republicans and Democrats alike, have benefited from partisan gerrymandering.
The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that federal judges have no power to police partisan gerrymandering has opened the door to more shenanigans from legislators seeking to retain control.

There is merit to the idea or balance that many states have struck around creating independent commissions to draw electoral maps. In fact, more than 25% of states in the nation have given such authority, in part or whole, to such commissions. As the fight for fair maps wage on, we must remember that African-Americans are largely the most negatively impacted group of unfairly drawn districts. Our population is increasing, but our representation is not. Simultaneously, we have to compete for seats in the legislature and work stop the efforts to cheat us out of our seat at the table.

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