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Published November 29 2001

Forum editorial: Worst kind of political behavior

Republicans in the North Dakota Legislature have abandoned all pretenses to fair play in the reapportionment process under way this week in Bismarck.

Employing the thuggish techniques of school yard bullies, two Republicans who served on the redistricting committee made it clear Monday that their motivation from the start was to further undermine the tiny Democrat minority in both houses of the Legislature. Rep. Bill Devlin, R-Finley, and Rep. Mike Timm, R-Minot, dropped the facade of fairness they had been hiding behind during the committee's months-long deliberations, and told their Republican colleagues exactly what was done.

"We nailed them," said Timm. "We nailed them right between the eyes."

Added Devlin: "Quite frankly, I really don't give a damn about the minority party caucuses any longer. It isn't our job to protect their districts."

Really? But it apparently is Devlin's job to protect the districts of Republicans. In other words, North Dakotans who consistently vote for Democrats in House and Senate legislative districts don't count in the myopic view of Devlin, Timm and their like-minded colleagues. In other words, by gerrymandering districts to make it nearly impossible for Democrat legislators to survive, Devlin and his gang think it's just fine to disenfranchise a significant number of Democrat voters.

We suggested a few days ago that statesmanship might be hard to find in a contentious legislative remap session, but it's worse than that. The majority party has guaranteed that bitterness will be sown for years to come because of its ham-handed conduct.

This is about more than politics and power. Common decency should be part of the discussion.

There is no question that no matter what form redistricting takes, Republicans will maintain a large majority in both houses. That's just fine and fair; it reflects the wishes of voters in most districts. But for that super-majority to crank up its bulldozers in order to further (and artificially) reduce the size of an already small and nearly powerless minority is the worst kind of political behavior. They are wielding their unrestrained power in a way that is just shy of corrupting the process.

They ought to be embarrassed. Certainly, North Dakotans who are not handicapped by oafish partisanship -- and that's most of them -- must be shaking their heads.

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