These local business leaders want to put end to government gridlock - Washington Business Journal - by Katishi Maake
Robert Giaimo, the CEO of Silver Diner Inc., has over the years grown increasingly frustrated with political gridlock in Washington.
The record 35-day partial government shutdown that furloughed 800,000 federal workers (and just ended — at least for three weeks) has been one of the biggest pieces of that frustration.
It was the impetus for Giaimo and his friend Tod Sedgwick, who happen to be registered in opposing political parties, to bring together a group of Greater Washington business leaders called "Democracy Group" to combat what they see as the primary cause of the gridlock: congressional gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is the process of drawing congressional districts in favor a political party. Since redistricting is handled by most state legislatures, parties in the majority can carve out districts in a manner that makes races much less competitive.
Giaimo and Sedgwick believe gerrymandering incentivizes more extreme candidates from both parties to field primary challenges to moderates, which leads to more congressional polarization — pointing to the shutdown as evidence.
"Lack of bipartisanship and extreme partisanship has driven our political system into a dysfunctional state," said Giaimo, who co-founded the Rockville-based restaurant chain in 1989. "We’ve seen that manifest with the shutdown."
Giaimo partnered with Sedgwick, a former business owner, and Glenn Nye, president and CEO of nonprofit think tank the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, to rally local business leaders to push Maryland and Virginia to restructure how congressional districts are drawn.
The CSPC helped Giaimo and Sedgwick author an op-ed outlining the issues with gerrymandering and how it affects the political system. So far, 20 Greater Washington business executives have signed on, including Sid Banerjee, founder and vice chairman of Clarabridge Inc.; Brett Schulman, CEO of Cava Group Inc.; Dan Simons, the co-owner of Farmers Restaurant Group; Neil Cohen, president of District Photo Inc.; Craig Ruppert, CEO of Ruppert Landscape Inc.; and Michael P. Gavin, chair of the board of MCR Federal LLC.
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For Simons, who said business was slow at his Farmers restaurants during the shutdown, the issue of gerrymandering is cut and dry.
"If you’re in a game and those you’re playing with can rig the rules to their advantage, then it’s not really a game anymore," said Simons, who said he's a registered independent. "The anti-gerrymandering approach should be the easiest bipartisan position to take."
In Virginia, federal judges determined last week that the state's redistricting map favors Democrats, turning six districts currently held by Republicans majority blue, according to The Washington Post.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in December appointed members to a commission tasked with redrawing the state's districts after a federal court ruled one of was unconstitutionally drawn to disenfranchise Republican voters, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Giaimo and Sedgwick both believe independent commissions are the best way to ensure bias is stamped out of the redistricting process across all 50 states. While the shutdown is one of the only byproducts of gerrymandering that has directly affected the business community, they believe prominent businesspeople can move the needle on an issue they see as nonpartisan.
"We need to change our political systems so it favors compromise," Sedgwick said. "This is not just a pipe dream."