Finally, if Members lose or resign their seats far more often, we will have created a system of de facto term limits. Under such a system, many Members would not serve long enough to gain substantive and procedural expertise. This would enhance the power of the more permanent Washington players — lobbyists, Congressional staff, executive branch bureaucrats and the Senate — and make the House less responsive and effective.
In short, making many Congressional districts highly competitive would cause more problems than it solves. This doesn’t mean that redistricting commissions should seek to protect incumbents, and indeed several state commissions are expressly barred from doing so. But it does mean that competitiveness should not be a factor in commission determinations. Instead, each commission should focus on ensuring that the Congressional delegation from its state fairly and accurately reflects the state’s political, economic, racial and ethnic makeup. Insofar as possible, the commissions should also propose districts that are compact and respect communities of interest, including cities and counties. If commissions can accomplish these difficult tasks, they will make an important contribution to American democracy.
Joe Onek, a former White House deputy counsel, was senior counsel to Speaker Nancy Pelosi before becoming a principal at the Raben Group in January.