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Citizens United and gerrymandering linked to D.C. gridlock

MIDDLEBURY — At a Thursday forum where Rep. Peter Welch listened to the farmers’ concerns, the Vermont Democrat also provided some insights into how the fiercely partisan environment in Washington, D.C., is making it hard to legislate sensibly.
Among factors contributing to the “can-don’t” atmosphere in Washington are the huge influx in outside funds made possible by the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” campaign contributions decision, Welch said.
He gave an example using his 2006 race for Congress against Republican Martha Rainville, in which both agreed to refrain from negative campaigning.
“Now Martha and I couldn’t do that because of Citizens United,” said Welch.
He explained that even if candidates today made such an agreement they’d have no power over an outside group that wanted to toss its own negative ad into a Vermont race — with or without a candidate’s permission or approval.
Gerrymandering, he said, was an another factor in the current D.C. roadblock. Over the past 20 years, especially, district gerrymandering has made extremism necessary to winning primaries.
Welch gave an example of D.C. colleagues being in support of a piece of legislation but unwilling to co-sponsor for fear of constituent or party backlash.
“The gerrymandering … has eroded the essential component of effective government: the willingness to compromise … It’s a dynamic that’s very dangerous.”
It’s different in Vermont, he said, because the entire state is a single congressional district, so he has to listen to everybody.
“You have the opportunity to listen to people with different points of view. And you have the opportunity to try to translate the differences in ways that help us come together,” said Welch.
“Vermonters get that cooperation and finding common ground is the way you get things done,” he added. “And in Washington they observe that it seems to be just a partisan fight constantly.”

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