The benefits of a competitive seat

Having a race every two years is pretty hard work.  There is not a lot of time to get to know and hear from all of the people in San Diego, Coronado, and Poway who are affected by federal policy, and to fashion responsive policies or find D.C. allies who can help.  And I already have a declared opponent who will be raising money and forcing me to spend way more time on a campaign than I would like to at this point, just five months into my term. 

On the other hand, the pressure of competition is a good motivator.  I am under the gun to show my constituents that I am working on issues that matter to San Diego, that my staff is helpful and effective, and that I bring the right approach to turning around Congress. 

I wish more of my colleagues felt the same sense of urgency, even if they are safe.  To be fair, many of my colleagues from those safe seats are motivated leaders, and really came to Congress to get things done.  But for others in safe seats, it’s easy to be complacent, disengaged and, worse, purely political.  More than once, when I’ve asked my Democratic colleagues how we can break through the gridlock, I’ve been advised not that we should have talks with the other party but that we should just try to win the next election.  I know many Republicans have the same conversations.

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Some of the safety in Congressional seats comes from the process of redistricting state-by-state.  Congressional districts have to change at least every 10 years based on the census, so that all districts are roughly equal in population.  In most states, the legislatures draw the lines, usually with blatantly political objectives.  The party in power in the state tries to gerrymander all of the opposite party’s voters into as few congressional seats as possible, maximizing the majority party’s number of seats.  That’s politicians picking voters, not voters picking politicians.

We have a better way here in California, where because of a citizens’ ballot initiative, our districts are now drawn by an independent citizen commission, not by Sacramento politicians.  And it’s given us at least ten competitive races in California alone, and we even elected some challengers over opponents.

I believe that independent redistricting is worth supporting nationwide.   Maybe if some of the safe members didn’t feel so safe, there would be more incentive to show results.  Competition works to drive performance. 

It’s good to have a race.

Peters represents California's 52nd congressional district in the House of Representatives since 2013. He serves on the Armed Services and Science, Space, & Technology committees.