Today in the New York Times, Dalton Conley and Jacqueline Stevens make a compelling case for why we should increase the size of the House of Representatives with the newest census to create a more accountable and fairer government. The only real hurdle is that it could require the individual current members of the House to vote to slightly dilute their individual power. While it is almost impossible to imagine that individual members would ever give up any of their power for the collective good of the country, it would be a smart move if Republican Speaker John Boehner could convince the individual members of his party to each give up a small amount of power to increase the power of the Republican party as a whole.
The Republicans are in a uniquely strong position right now thanks to the 2010 elections. They made incredibly strong gains in governor and state legislature races, which leads all political observers to conclude they will be the clear “winners” of redistricting. Not only do they have full control in most of the big states that let their legislatures draw districts, California, even though now under full Democratic control, switched to an independent redistricting board.
Yet, with only roughly a dozen districts being reapportioned, Republicans’ redistricting advantage is relatively minor. On the other hand, if they adopted something like the Wyoming proposal, which would add over 100 new seats, their redistricting advantage would increase significantly.
Another thing for the Republican party to keep in mind is that they are currently at their biggest majority ever thanks to a near-perfect political storm allowing them to take some Democratic-leaning seats. Almost by default, if the House remains at 435 seats, a dozen or more of the incumbent Republicans are almost assured to lose in 2012. On the other hand, if they create around a 100 new seats, it is likely all the incumbent Republicans could get slightly safer districts, and Democrats would be more inclined to contest the many open seats instead of challenging an incumbent.
The chances of Congress actually choosing to end the absurd practice of a fixed size House is close to zero because almost no individual would vote to reduce their power, but, if John Boehner could convince his members to make a sacrifice to increase their collective power as a party, this would be a huge opportunity for them. An opportunity that is slipping away.