For more than 20 years I have been a resident of New Jersey. When I first moved here I had some idea of what the state was like. But it did not take long for my new friends and neighbors to tell me about the issues involved in the state.
Then as now, New Jersey is known for having some of the highest property taxes anywhere. New Jersey is also home to more school districts (604) and more municipalities (565) than we know what to do with. We spend more per pupil and have at best very mixed outcomes for our expenses. We even have a couple of dozen non-operating districts with administrators and staffs but no schools.
Some have said that New Jersey pioneered paying more and getting less, but that is unverified. What we do know is that year after year, legislature after legislature and governor after governor, things have gotten worse.
However there have been bright spots. Just last week, 17 years after Oregon became the first state to hold all elections with mail-in ballots it took another forward step to broaden voter participation by automatically registering people to vote. Every adult citizen in Oregon who has interacted with the Department of Motor Vehicles since 2013, but who hasn’t registered to vote, will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. The measure is expected to add about 300,000 new voters to the rolls.
But back here in New Jersey and in the other states across the country people are unhappy about what is going on in the statehouses as well as in Congress. I keep hearing the same thing, “How bad do things have to get before people start to vote for new people and new ideas?” My neighbors keep saying “Soon, the next big election will do it…” but that soon never arrives. And my neighbors (and I) are too often part of the problem.
I live in a “safe” district at both the state and national level. In my case this is a Republican district (Note: I am a registered Republican myself). We chose our neighborhood like many for having good schools and a good work commute. But in the 20 years of living here, there has been no Independent, let alone Democratic presence. There is no need to be responsive to the citizens, to try or support new policies or to have any reason to change the status quo no matter how many people object. And while we object, we keep voting for the same incumbents, over and over again.
Here in my district, like the overwhelming majority of districts in virtually every state across the country, we have allowed a system of redistricting that works not to stifle a representative democracy. As long as this system is in place, we have almost no chance of seeing our states or our nation prosper and move forward. Instead, we will see a continuing escalation of partisan politics at every level of government.
I have looked to the Supreme Court to be a centrist in promoting the welfare of all over the welfare of one party or the other. But a centrist position by definition is one of compromise between the extremes. In the past 15 years, the Supreme Court seems as partisan as the rest of our government.
There is no way that the states themselves will ever reform their redistricting practices to be fair and balanced. The slender hope we have as a nation is that the Supreme Court will one day find a case in which they will make a ruling that is both conservative and progressive. One that conserves the founding principle that each election should be a fair and balanced. It could be soon. We can only hope that it is not “never.”