As we enter the new year, congressional approval ratings remain at historic lows among members of both parties. Only 13 percent of Democrats approve of Congress’ work. And only 28 percent of Republicans concur, according to a recent Gallup Poll. To quote the great philosopher Yogi Berra: “Slump, I ain’t in no slump, I just ain’t hitting.”

He’s right. Congress just ain’t hitting. Unfortunately, the same can now be said of the Texas Legislature — and for the same reasons.

We’re a divided nation, but that’s nothing new. This has long been an enviable strength. It has been estimated at least 30 percent of eligible voters in 1787 opposed creation of the United States of America through ratification of the Constitution. Thankfully we had strong leaders willing to compromise on their own strongly held beliefs for the greater public good.

Today compromise means an opponent in your next primary. And minimum action for the greater good of our country.

Again borrowing from the wisdom of Yogi: “I tell the kids somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose, just don’t fight about it, just try to get better.” It’s hard to get better politically and legislatively in Texas when most of our races in 2018 will again be decided in the primaries. That means those worrying about our nation’s debt, struggling education and health-care systems, disappearance of Middle America and collapsing infrastructure will have to wait another two years for real solutions. The next Congress will be no better than the current one. Adverse to work, lawmakers of both parties now spend more and more time raising obscene amounts of money for the next election and keeping their base happy because that’s who votes in March.

How about a New Year’s resolution? Let’s make this a simple political issue for every candidate running. I propose a bill be offered in the first days of the state legislative session beginning in January 2019 that creates a non-partisan commission on redistricting, patterned after those in Iowa and Arizona that will take effect in the 2020 elections and beyond. This commission would ensure:

  • They are in compliance with the Constitution of the United States and the Voting Rights Act.
  • Districts are roughly equal in population.
  • Districts appear compact and contiguous.
  • Communities of interest are respected.
  • Districts incorporate visible geographic features, including town, city and county boundaries and undivided census tracts.
  • Districts are competitive in terms of general elections so long as the aforementioned criteria are satisfied.

This commission must start from scratch and cannot consider the residences of incumbents, candidates or party voting patterns.

For all voters, the question to ask those seeking our votes for state representative or state senator is: Will you co-sponsor and vote for such a bill? If not, why not? To those wanting to be our representatives in Congress: Will you support such legislation in the Texas Legislature? If not, why not? Same questions for those running for all statewide offices.

Many of those who drafted the U.S. Constitution warned against political parties or, as they called them at the time, factions. George Washington was among them. Even so, it was inevitable like-minded people join together to influence “their” government to do what “they” wanted under government formed by that same Constitution.

Problem: Our two-party system by now has imploded. The Constitution did not anticipate technology would allow reapportionment every 10 years, or sooner, to draw boundary lines to protect incumbents and parties in power so creatively. Our country and state would be much better served if the very best ideas of our two parties were articulated by their very best candidates come November, not in March. Such competition has and will always serve America best.

The Constitution was carefully constructed to keep the power of government in the people’s hands as much as possible. Abolishing gerrymandering is the best place to start returning power to the people.

Former Democratic Congressman Charles Stenholm serves as co-chair of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and on the Concord Coalition board of directors. He represented West Texas in Congress 26 years.