Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On Apportionment

The Deseret News reports that some in Washington are considering giving Utah an extra seat in the House, along with Washington D.C. Washington D.C.'s representation has been debated for a long time, but Utah missed getting an extra seat by (if I remember correctly) almost exactly the number of Utah missionaries serving abroad. While military personnel living out of the country are counted as state residents, the court ruled that the missionaries are not state residents.

Some, including Nancy Pelosi, don't think this is a good idea. Pelosi is evidently concerned about Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat. While I appreciate Pelosi's concern, Matheson is a big boy and can take care of himself without her motherly affections. He comes from a long line of Utah politicians and he knows how to get elected as a Democrat in a predominantly Republican state. We all watched as his Republican opponent in the last election scraped the bottom of the barrel, desperately trying to find some poop to sling at Matheson. While left-wingers could scarcely gather a few votes, Democrats can and do get elected in Utah. But when they do, it's because they're perceived as Utahns first, and their policies have to be in line with Utah's priorities.

Now, some might object to this because it would be heavily Republican Utah that would get a seat. To them I say, study the mathematics of apportionment. It's not difficult; I've taught it to high school graduates. The number of representatives each state has is determined by the populations of all the states, 49 of which are definitely outside of Utah's circle of influence. There is absolutely nothing Utah or any other Republican state could have done to make themselves miss the cutoff for an additional seat by less than everyone else, and thus put themselves closest to needing an extra congressional seat. Or, if there were some way they could have manipulated the numbers, they would have actually done it. That it was Utah that ended up next in line for an extra seat is a mathematical accident, not a political manipulation.

On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion that this proposal would get no political play if the next state in line happened to be a Democratic state. And I don't like artificially "balancing" the numbers by letting in a probable extra Republican to "neutralize" the extra Democrat that D.C. would probably elect. I agree with Rep. Pelosi that the case for getting D.C. its own seat stands on its own merits. However, I notice that neither she nor any other Democrat has proposed giving D.C. its own seat, at least not that I've heard of.

However, Washington D.C. is still left in the unenviable position of not having any voting representatives in Congress. In 200 years nobody's given them a seat because they've not been able to get enough support from both sides. So Pelosi's argument basically boils down to "Yeah they deserve a seat, and yeah we'd probably stand to gain from the seat's addition, but we're not going to do anything about it lest the Republicans gain something too."

If this is what it takes to get them a seat, so be it. If the seat happens to be a Democratic seat, so be it. It's better that they be represented by a Democrat than to not be represented at all. Besides, the increase to 437 seats would only be temporary, until the next census, which is only a few years away-- and while Utah happens to be Republican right now and would in all probability elect a Republican to fill the extra seat, there's no guarantee Utah will retain the seat at the next apportionment, or if they did retain it, that Utah would only elect a Republican to it. So I say go for it. I don't think it behooves Rep. Pelosi to block efforts to get these people representation just because she doesn't want the Republicans to get anything they want.