By the Editorial Board / Gainesville Sun
Our electoral system tends to reward politicians who pander to the extremes.
Legislative districts are drawn to favor a particular political party rather than be competitive. Closed party primaries give further incentive for candidates to appeal only to base voters. Campaign contributions from special-interest groups help push politicians into hard-line positions.
David Jolly and Patrick Murphy saw these problems firsthand as members of Congress. Jolly, a Republican, represented a St. Petersburg-area House district before losing a race for reelection last year, while Murphy, a Democrat, represented a Jupiter-area district before losing a bid for the U.S. Senate.
Now the bipartisan duo is touring college campuses, including a stop Wednesday at the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service, providing prescriptions for the gridlock and other problems ailing Congress and our country. Both decry the practice of gerrymandering, or drawing districts to maximize the percentage of voters likely to support one party’s candidate.
Florida passed the Fair Districts state constitutional amendments in 2010 to address the problem, but Jolly said that caused some districts to be more geographically compact but less competitive. Murphy said using an independent commission, rather than lawmakers, to draw districts might improve the process.
Jolly said that Florida’s closed primary system also gives candidates less reason to work across the aisle. Possible solutions include open primaries, in which those elections are open to voters from other parties or independents, or having all candidates run in the same primary with the top two advancing to a runoff regardless of party affiliation.
Both Jolly and Murphy also support campaign finance reforms. Jolly argued that members of Congress must dedicate too much time to raising money, spending 20-40 hours each week collecting campaign contributions and far less time on the actual job.
His proposed solutions include setting a limit on weeks that members of Congress can raise money, as the Florida Legislature does in barring contributions during its legislative session, or banning members from personally soliciting donations, as Florida does for judicial candidates. He also favors limiting contributions from lobbyists.
Murphy also supports those solutions, but notes that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has given so-called Super PACs more power than lobbyists. But a constitutional amendment or more moderate court would likely be the only way to overturn the decision and reverse the trend.
Jolly made news last week when he said “we might be better off as a republic” if Democrats took control of the House in 2018. Jolly stood by that position this week, saying divided government would provide better checks on President Donald Trump.
Divided government doesn’t have to mean gridlock. If the electoral reforms promoted by Jolly and Murphy were passed, members would have more incentive to work across party lines and build consensus.
The bipartisan duo deserves credit for touring college campuses in support of such ideas. They will need significant public support to have a chance of being implemented, because our current electoral system discourages lawmakers from supporting even these reasonable reforms.
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