NYT: Data shows urban areas underrepresented in Congressional districts

Recently, I wrote: Are struggling downtown areas shortchanged by local elections?

That post deals specifically with Savannah’s urban core, but there’s a broader issue: cities have been consistently underrepresented at both the state and federal level. The problem is especially acute in Washington, D.C. because of the very structure of our democracy, which awards two senators to states as small as Wyoming, with less than 600,000 residents, and two senators to California, with a population of about 37 million.

The NYT’s Some Cities Object to Being Carved Up by Redistricting deals with another phenomenon: the tendency to fragment cities into several Congressional districts rather than include the urban core in as few districts as possible.

From the piece:

Cities have long been underrepresented in Congress, political scientists have found. As far back as 1963, when 31 percent of Americans lived in central cities, only 25.3 percent of the nation’s Congressional districts were situated mostly in central cities, according to a 1998 study by Harold Wolman and Lisa Marckini. By 1993, they found, the portion of Americans living in central cities had dropped to 28.2 percent, and only 21.4 percent of Congressional districts were primarily urban.

One has to wonder if inadequate legislative advocacy for and representation of urban areas has been a driver of population decline.

The NYT piece notes that some city leaders like the idea of having multiple legislators with a political stake, but mayors from Salt Lake City to Nashville raise serious objections. For example:

The mayor of Nashville, Karl F. Dean, grew concerned last summer when rumors began swirling that the Republicans who will eventually draw the new maps in Tennessee were thinking of dividing Davidson County, the home of Nashville, to split up its Democratic voters. Mr. Dean wrote to state officials, urging them to keep the district intact.

“No one has made, beyond pure politics, a case for breaking up the district,” said Mr. Dean, who added that the city had benefited by having one representative who knew its needs and could specialize on issues like copyright law, which is important to the music industry. “I get politics as much as anybody — it’s what I do for a living,” he said. “But this does not need to be done.”

Georgia’s proposed new Congressional districts will actually put all of Savannah into the 1st district. That district will continue to be a solid one for Republican incumbent Jack Kingston, I think, but I very much like the idea of Savannah’s needs and issues being clearly the responsibility of one member of Congress.