Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

As a Republican, I hew to the belief that competition is not only healthy but also indispensable to personal and societal advancement. Simply put, competition makes us better. Indeed, the necessity of competition has long been a cornerstone of Virginia’s Republican Creed: “We believe… (t)hat the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice…”

Moreover, the benefits of competition are not limited to the economic marketplace. Experience demonstrates that the benefits apply to the spectrum of human endeavors, from sports, to business, to politics. Regardless of the field, competition hones our skills and thoughts.

The Founding Fathers understood this. That is why they strove to preserve the free marketplace of ideas, and enshrined its protection in the First Amendment.

Meaningful competition depends upon a fair system in which a level playing field exists, and that the rules are not skewed to favor one competitor over another. If the rules of “the game,” whatever that game may be, are twisted to favor a particular side, then competition no longer truly exists, and improvement is fettered if not doomed.

Once again, Virginia’s Republican Creed reflects this fundamental concept of fairness: “We believe… (t)hat all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities…”

It is with this backdrop that I address the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the consolidated decisions Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek (“Rucho”).

In Rucho, Maryland Democrats and North Carolina Republicans engaged in some of the most brazen partisan gerrymandering imaginable, cynically trying to determine the outcomes of future elections without regard to the will of the voters. While looking askance at the tactics employed in those cases, the Supreme Court decided that partisan gerrymandering is beyond the purview of federal courts. With the specter of federal judicial intervention removed, the temptation to subvert the political process through egregious partisan gerrymandering will surely rise.

I am not naive. I understand that we probably can never remove entirely partisan gerrymandering from the redistricting process, but we must recognize that the Rucho decision poses a risk to our republic if we are not careful, and act accordingly. If elections are no longer deemed free and fair, and the parties do not have to meaningfully fight for votes based on the quality of their ideas and proposals, our commitment to a representative republic will ring hollow and lose its meaning. Not only will competition be lost, but citizens will rightfully lose faith in our political process.

Russia purportedly conducts elections, but they are mere propaganda exercises because the outcomes are predetermined. We do not want to fall victim to the same fate via devious redistricting algorithms that determine the outcome before the first vote is cast.

I was encouraged by and proud of the bipartisan efforts in Virginia’s General Assembly last session to establish a nonpartisan approach to redistricting. I urge our leaders not to become tempted or distracted by the Rucho decision. In the aftermath of that decision, it has become more important than ever that Virginia lead the way in advocating that elections be fair and that political parties win or lose through the open marketplace of ideas and not through contrived district lines designed to thwart the will of the voters.

I believe that there is power in Virginia’s being a purple state, thereby forcing each party to advance its strongest arguments and policies. I am confident that with such competition, the ideals of limited government that does not unduly interfere in people’s lives, fiscal restraint, equal opportunity, and the principle that government should focus on its core missions while striving to perform those missions well, will prevail.

I am willing to compete for votes on such a platform, and to continue to refine and create policies and programs that best achieve those objectives. The ability to adopt and implement the best approaches to advance the Commonwealth and its people is lost if the party in control does not have to continuously evaluate and refine its proposals to capture the hearts and votes of Virginia’s citizens.

I am reminded of what my father admonished me. “Son, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Just because a party can constitutionally engage in partisan gerrymandering does not mean it should. Virginia must remain faithful to the vision of our Founding Fathers, and set an example for other states to follow that true competition for political control is something that must be defended and celebrated, not subverted.

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