Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A new initiative aims to derail redistricting reform

George Skelton wrote an insightful column for the Los Angeles Times this week discussing some of the formidable hurdles Proposition 11, the redistricting reform initiative, must overcome before the initiative's results are achieved. His column is online and excerpts are below.

Remember redistricting reform, the effort to strip from legislators the power to choose their own voters?

It's the power that leads to gerrymandering or, in effect, lawmakers rigging their own elections.

Proposition 11, sponsored by a coalition of nonpartisan good-government groups and heavily funded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, passed by a thin margin (1.8%) in November 2008. It called for creation of a 14-member independent citizens commission to draw districts for the Legislature and state Board of Equalization.

The next once-a-decade remapping will occur in 2011, and take effect with the 2012 election.

Here's an update: Things aren't going all that smoothly.

Two problems:

* Not enough women and minorities are applying for seats on the commission, officials report. The panel's pool of applicants is heavily tilted toward old white guys. There's a concerted effort underway to recruit a more diverse pool by the application deadline, Feb. 12.

* It all could be moot anyway. A small group of Democratic political insiders is trying to repeal Prop. 11 and also torpedo a sequel that would extend the redistricting reform to congressional seats. They've filed an initiative for the November ballot.

The odds are that Prop. 11 will survive. The repeal effort is blatantly cynical, and Californians probably will see through the bunkum. But this election year is unpredictable.


At last count a week ago, about 6,000 people had applied. But 73% were male, and 52% were 55 or older. Whites represented 80% and Latinos only 8%. A mere 14% were from Los Angeles County, but 20% -- not surprisingly -- lived in the capital county of Sacramento.

Still, it should all work out. There'll be a large enough pool of women and minorities to seat a diverse commission representative of the state's demographics.

A bigger threat to reform is an initiative conceived by Michael Berman, a longtime Democratic strategist, redistricting guru and brother of U.S. Rep. Howard Berman of Van Nuys. The Bermans' goal is to kill an initiative that would also hand congressional redistricting to the independent commission.

The Berman proposal would commit a double execution by simultaneously burying Prop. 11. All redistricting would be returned to the Democratic-dominated Legislature.

But that's not how the so-called "findings and purpose" of the Berman initiative read. Titled "the 'Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act' or 'FAIR,' " the measure begins: "Our political leadership has failed us. California is facing an unprecedented economic crisis and we, the people (not the politicians), need to prioritize how we spend our limited funds. We are going broke. . . . "

And so forth with paragraph after paragraph of pot and kettle bilge. Based on Sacramento history, the independent commission won't spend any more money on redistricting than the Legislature has, and its meetings will be open, unlike the lawmakers' plotting behind locked doors.

"I'd be embarrassed to write that, and I'm a hack," says Rick Claussen, campaign consultant for the congressional redistricting reform. That initiative is being funded so far by wealthy Silicon Valley physicist and political activist Charles Munger Jr., a bankroller of Prop. 11. Half the necessary voter signatures have been collected to place the measure on the November ballot.

"I'm trying to uproot this evil" of gerrymandering, Munger says. "It's a national problem, but this is my state so I'm starting here. Whenever the politicians get into the game of selecting the voters, instead of the voters being free to select the politicians, that's bad for democracy."

The Berman measure, which hasn't yet been cleared for signature-gathering, actually was officially submitted by UCLA law professor Daniel Lowenstein. He is an election law expert, first chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission and a Berman chum. For decades Lowenstein has opposed independent redistricting and is straight up about it.

"I believe that in almost all respects, redistricting is a political matter," he says. "There's one institution set up especially for resolving political matters and it does so entirely legitimately. And that's the state Legislature."

As for the majority party gerrymandering to minimize campaign competition, he says: "It's a complicated process of self interest, group interest and public interest. . . . A fair redistricting plan is whatever emerges from the political process of compromise and competition."

"If the other party doesn't like it, they should win the next election."

One hazard for reformers is that voters could become confused and vote against both measures. That would be fine with the Berman group. They'd at least prevent pesky citizens from drawing congressional districts.

No comments:

Post a Comment