Carlson is a high school science teacher in the rural farming town of Royal City, Wash., and a volunteer for RepresentUs, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for a broad array of democracy reforms.
I was blessed to be born into a family that taught and modeled conservative values. My parents and grandparents showed me — not just with their words, but with their deeds — the values of honor, integrity and heeding the wisdom of our ancestors.
These values have shaped my personal and political choices my whole life. I have always voted for the candidate who I thought best represented these values, which I will readily admit has usually led to me voting for Republicans.
My conservative values also lead me to support the For the People Act — the comprehensive voting rights and democracy reform legislation now pending in the Senate after being passed by the Democratic-majority House, albeit without a single GOP vote.
I truly believe that conservative values make the strongest case for this bill.
Consider the conservative values of honor and integrity. Many modern politicians lack either one. This is because honor and integrity are not assets, but rather liabilities, in a system that relies on such things as partisan gerrymandering and dark money.
Gerrymandering allows the politicians in power to pick their voters, custom-drawing their own electoral districts so they can coast to re-election year after year — without honoring their commitment to represent all the people they have pledged to represent.
Dark money is the term for the ocean of cash — more than $1 billion during the 2020 campaign — that nonprofit organizations are able to spend on politics without revealing the identities of their donors. Candidates who benefit from dark money have an obvious competitive edge over those not beholden to these special interests.
Given these two advantages, is it any wonder Congress had an average 24 percent approval rating in the last year but a 90 percent re-election rate last fall?
The For the People Act (also known as HR 1 and S 1) addresses these issues by turning over the drawing of congressional districts to independent commissions instead of politicians, and by requiring trade associations, unions and other politically active nonprofits to disclose who's giving them money and what campaigns they are funding — which, incredibly, is not required right now. (The scandal, as they say, ain't what's illegal.)
Once politicians are required to actually earn the votes of those they represent — and can no longer rely on rigged districts and secret money sources to stay in power — we will see honor and integrity filter back into the institutions that were designed to represent us.
When discussing this legislation with my conservative friends and family, the single biggest objection they raise is that the bill would seize power from states and local governments and put it in the hands of a remote and bloated federal government. "What could be more sacred to the conservative values than the right of a community to manage its own affairs?" they ask.
This is a valid concern. Its resolution comes from looking through the lens of another conservative value: the wisdom of our ancestors.
States will still run their own elections. The bill sets some basic rules to protect voters and the security of our elections nationwide. History shows this balance is necessary.
Following the Revolutionary War, our country first framed a government dedicated to the principle of complete local autonomy. The outcome under the Articles of Confederation was disastrous, spurring a constitutional convention to revise and repair the system.
The wise James Madison realized that corrupt factions had a much easier time gaining control over a local government than a central government — the phenomenon that caused the collapse of the Greek democracies and the Roman Republic. He believed a strong central government would provide an important check and balance on the worst impulses of local control.
In "Vices of the Political System of the United States," Madison made this argument powerfully.
"Place three individuals in a situation wherein the interest of each depends on the voice of the others, and give to two of them an interest opposed to the rights of the third. Will the latter be secure?" he asks. "The prudence of every man would shun the danger."
He then suggests that if the number of people is expanded to 3,000, the danger would be substantially reduced, concluding: "A common interest or passion is less apt to be felt, and the requisite combinations less easy to be formed, by a great than by a small number. The society becomes broken into a greater variety of interests and pursuits of passions, which check each other."
For that reason, he and the other Framers designed a Constitution with a central government, one that has lasted over 230 years.
I have no doubt that Madison — along with Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington — would fully support enactment of the For the People Act. And while I may not agree with a number of the positions held by my state's senators, Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, I am happy to note their support for this legislation.
Conservatives should want politicians with honor and integrity, and a government that heeds to the wisdom of our ancestors who wrote the Constitution. The For the People Act takes us in that direction. And for that reason, I call on my fellow conservatives across the country to support this bill and to encourage their senators, in both parties, to vote for its passage.
- How the riot and HR 1 fuel the crusade against dark money - The ... ›
- Progressive campaign aims to weaken filibuster to pass HR 1 - The ... ›
- Partisan standoff at Senate's first hearing on HR 1 - The Fulcrum ›
- Cuccinelli to lead conservative campaign against HR 1 - The Fulcrum ›
Colorado's inaugural congressional redistricting commission, which operates outside of the purview of politicians, has already faced its first partisan test.
Chairman Danny Moore was removed from his leadership position Monday after his fellow commissioners learned he had shared conspiracy theories about the 2020 election on social media. The 11 other commissioners voted unanimously to remove him from the chairmanship, but he will be allowed to continue serving on the commission.
While politicians still have mapmaking power in most of the country, Colorado is one of a handful of states that adopted a redistricting commission over the last decade. For the first time, these states will employ an independent panel to redraw congressional and state legislative maps in a more fair and transparent manner.
In 2018, Colorado voters approved ballot initiatives to establish separate commissions for congressional and state legislative redistricting. Each commission has 12 members with even representation of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated members, none of them politicians.
Last month, Moore, a Republican military veteran from Colorado Springs, was elected by the commissioners to serve as chair. But soon after, local media outlets reported he had shared election conspiracy theories on his Facebook page.
His posts claimed, without evidence, that Joe Biden was not elected by the people, but "by the Democratic steal." He also erroneously claimed that absentee ballots can be modified by mail carriers and poll workers. And he encouraged Republicans to use the courts to "erase those gains" Democrats made in the 2020 election.
"How then can the people of Colorado believe Commissioner Moore will be able to determine fact from fiction, when he's repeatedly asserted unsubstantiated claims that the presidential election was stolen, the Colorado election in particular was fraudulent, and that 'Blue state officials' in Colorado disenfranchise some voters by manipulating the vote," said Democratic Commissioner Paula Espinoza.
Moore has also used social media to cast doubt on the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and has accused the media of lying about it. He defended calling Covid-19 "the Chinese virus," saying that was not racist. But critics of Moore's posts said his rhetoric has contributed to the trend of anti-Asian hate and violence.
Ahead of the commission's vote, Moore defended his posts, arguing he had the right to free speech and to his own opinions.
"My comments were intended to create a broader discussion around political correctness and the problems that are impacting our society. I meant no harm or malice against any group or any person," Moore said.
Seven commissioners expressed their disappointment in Moore's actions and called on him to resign as chairman. But Moore refused to do so and instead asked the commission to vote on the matter. After some discussion and advice from the state attorney general's office, the commission proceeded to vote for his removal from the top spot..
Carly Hare, an unaffiliated member who previously served as vice chair, will now take over as chair of the commission.
- End to prison gerrymandering in Colorado could shift power - The ... ›
- Voters took the lead on political change in 2018 - The Fulcrum ›
- In most states, the redistricting rules remain the same - The Fulcrum ›
As states prepare to redraw their election maps later this year, democracy reform advocates are raising the alarm once more about the severe threat of gerrymandering facing a vast majority of the country.
The Gerrymandering Threat Index, released Monday by RepresentUs, identifies 35 states — with a collective population of more than 188 million people — at extreme or high risk of partisan gerrymandering this cycle. These are red and blue states, ranging in population from Texas to Wyoming.
While some states enacted redistricting reforms over the last decade, politicians still have control over the mapmaking process in most states. Republicans will have the advantage in 21 states, Democrats will lead the redrawing in nine and another nine will have a divided government in charge.
In its 160-page report, RepresentUs assessed the threat of gerrymandering in all 50 states using five key questions:
- Can politicians control how election maps are drawn?
- Can election map drawing be done in secret?
- Can election maps be rigged for partisan gain?
- Are the legal standards weak?
- Are rigged election maps hard to challenge in court?
Based on the answers to each question, RepresentUs marked whether the state was at a low, moderate or high risk of gerrymandering. If the answer to one or more of these questions was "yes," that indicated the state is at an elevated risk of partisan gerrymandering. These five ratings were then used to calculate a state's overall risk assessment.
RepresentUs found that the threat of gerrymandering was extreme in 27 states, high in eight states, moderate in two states, lower in six states and minimal in seven states. Of the states at extreme risk, 10 received the worst rating for all five questions. Only California was labeled a low-risk state across the board.
The country-wide solution to this pervasive problem, the report says, is Congress passing the For the People Act, more commonly known as HR 1. The sweeping reform legislation includes a provision requiring states to use independent redistricting commissions for their congressional maps, if they don't already have one in place.
Under HR 1, the states now considered at extreme risk would move to the low-risk category — all but ending partisan gerrymandering, the report says.
"This report makes it clear that gerrymandering is a national crisis that needs an urgent and bold solution. Politicians are already preparing to pick their voters during this year's redistricting. But with the For the People Act, Congress has a chance to stop them before they get started," said Josh Silver, CEO and co-founder of RepresentUs.
While House Democrats already passed HR 1 in March, the bill's fate in the 50-50 Senate is not as optimistic. With the filibuster still intact, it's unlikely the reform package will receive enough votes to pass.
- In most states, the redistricting rules remain the same - The Fulcrum ›
- Report warns of severe gerrymandering in Southern states ›
- Experts identify the worst examples of gerrymandering - The Fulcrum ›
This is the 10th installment of an ongoing Q&A series.
As Democrats take power in Washington, if only tenuously, many democracy reform groups see a potential path toward making the American political system work better. In this installment, Lawrence Lessig, founder of Equal Citizens and a Harvard Law School professor, answers our questions about 2020 accomplishments and plans for the year ahead. His organization promotes reforms aimed at fixing the political system so that all citizens are represented equally. Lessig's responses have been edited for clarity and length.
First, let's briefly recap 2020. What was your biggest triumph last year?
A bunch of us reform organizations were focused on getting every presidential candidate to commit to fundamental, HR 1-or-better-like reform. We organized a string of town halls to secure that commitment, beginning with Andrew Yang and ending with Bernie Sanders.
We also succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to clarify the power of presidential electors. That decision shut down any effort to get electors to vote contrary to their pledge and — more importantly in this election — provided a clear signal that the court would not tolerate any legislatures voting contrary to how the people had voted.
And your biggest setback?
It seems strangely narcissistic to think about individual setbacks in the middle of a pandemic. The setback we suffered was the setback the world suffered, the U.S. more than it had to — the pandemic.
What is one learning experience you took from 2020?
The profound wisdom in Margaret Mead's words: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Fundamental democratic reform has been elevated to the center of national political attention. We've been working with many others for more than a decade to make this happen. But "we" have not been millions; "we'' have just been those convinced and committed to making this happen.
Now let's look ahead. What issues will your organization prioritize in 2021?
We will continue to press HR 1 as hard as we can. But we're incredibly excited about a new project that we'll launch as a beta in the next few weeks: a massive virtual deliberation project. We hope it will enable hundreds of thousands to deliberate in small groups, first about the Electoral College, and then, if that's successful, about other issues of democracy as well.
How will Democratic control of the federal government change the ways you work toward your goals?
After HR 1, we're shifting our focus to people, not Congress. We want to demonstrate broad and deep understanding of issues of democratic reform across America.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge moving forward? And how do you plan to tackle it?
America has a media culture with a severe attention-span problem — easily distracted, not easily focused. But unlike an ADHD kid, there's no clear treatment. Somehow we need to figure out how to engage the public with seriousness and serious issues. Slow democracy, not democracy tweeted.
Finish this sentence. In two years, American democracy will ...
have begun in earnest. HR 1 will have suppressed gerrymandering, and all the techniques to suppress the vote; it will have empowered small-dollar donations to support campaigns; and the people will have the tools to engage in serious, informed deliberation about important issues facing our democracy (and if not, admit it — even just one of these will be incredible!).
- Podcast playlist: Reforming civic education in our schools - The ... ›
- What does the SCOTUS faithless elector decision mean? - The ... ›
- Podcast playlist: insurrection at the Capitol - The Fulcrum ›
- Alaska case may open door to reversing Citizens United - The Fulcrum ›