Draw­ing the lines

It’s time to undo a par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing sys­tem, so vote yes on Prop. 20 and no on Prop. 27.

Los Angeles Times - - Sunday Opinion - ne of the most

Otire­some side ef­fects of Cal­i­for­nia’s ini­tia­tive process is that few po­lit­i­cal bat­tles in this state are ever won for good. The losers al­ways have an­other chance to per­suade vot­ers to re­con­sider their ear­lier de­ci­sions. That’s at work in one of Novem­ber’s least per­sua­sive bal­lot mea­sures, Propo­si­tion 27, which would roll back a vote of just two years ago. What’s es­pe­cially strange about this ap­peal to sec­ond thoughts is that the mea­sure Propo­si­tion 27 seeks to undo hasn’t even done any­thing yet.

In 2008, Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers did away with the sys­tem un­der which mem­bers of the Assem­bly and state Se­nate draw the bound­aries of their own dis­tricts. It was a close elec­tion — the same idea had failed be­fore — but vot­ers ul­ti­mately con­cluded that they did not trust the mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture to su­per­vise this in­her­ently self-serv­ing process. In­stead, the vot­ers ap­proved cre­ation of an in­de­pen­dent, non­par­ti­san cit­i­zens com­mis­sion to take on the busi­ness of craft­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s leg­isla­tive dis­tricts. Ad­vo­cates, in­clud­ing Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger and this page, saw it as a promis­ing way to be­gin chip­ping away at some of Sacra­mento’s cal­ci­fi­ca­tion.

The com­mis­sion is still un­der con­struc­tion, and it has not yet be­gun to work. That’s be­cause the next re­dis­trict­ing can­not com­mence un­til the state’s pop­u­la­tion is tal­lied in the 2010 cen­sus. But the losers of the 2008 vote are al­ready at­tempt­ing to elim­i­nate the com­mis­sion and re­turn the line-draw­ing to the Leg­is­la­ture. They’re the ones be­hind Propo­si­tion 27.

Pro­po­nents of the propo­si­tion smugly ti­tled it the Fi­nan­cial Ac­count­abil­ity in Re­dis­trict­ing Act, and they ar­gue that it will save money — that Cal­i­for­nia can­not, in this hour of fis­cal cri­sis, af­ford the 14-mem­ber com­mis­sion and the staff re­quired to carry out its du­ties. That’s fraud­u­lent, and they know it. Cal­i­for­nia’s cri­sis is real, but the cit­i­zens com­mis­sion is an an­ti­dote, not a con­trib­u­tor. The real cul­prit is Sacra­mento’s self-sus­tain­ing, in­cum­bent-pro­tect­ing pol­i­tics, a sys­tem in which leg­is­la­tors bicker about and deadlock on al­most ev­ery­thing, with one glar­ing ex­cep­tion: Democrats pros­per by draw­ing them­selves solidly Demo­cratic seats, and Repub­li­cans ben­e­fit equally by lines drawn to pro­tect their elected of­fi­cials. So both sides have de­clared a re­dis­trict­ing truce, leav­ing out only the peo­ple of the state and their in­ter­est in hold­ing lead­ers ac­count­able.

That’s the rea­son that big money — mem­bers of Congress, cur­rent and for­mer lead­ers of the Leg­is­la­ture and their pros­per­ous, con­nected friends — is sup­port­ing Propo­si­tion 27. Speaker John Perez (D-Los An­ge­les), who would su­per­vise re­dis­trict­ing in the Assem­bly if it is put back un­der leg­isla­tive ju­ris­dic­tion, has do­nated $10,000; so has his pre­de­ces­sor, As­sem­bly­woman Karen Bass (D-Los An­ge­les). Bil­lion­aire Haim Sa­ban, a re­li­able friend of Demo­cratic of­fice­hold­ers, has chipped in at least $2 mil­lion. That’s no sur­prise. In­cum­bents in this state are over­whelm­ingly Democrats, so money for the mea­sure has over­whelm­ingly come from Demo­cratic lead­ers, unions and lib­er­als. Repub­li­cans, think­ing they might fare bet­ter with a non­par­ti­san com­mis­sion than with their Demo­cratic coun­ter­parts, are largely tak­ing a pass. But that should be of no com­fort to lib­er­als or union mem­bers. This ef­fort is not ide­o­log­i­cal; it is self-in­ter­ested. Propo­si­tion 27 pro­tects a pol­i­tics of priv­i­lege and in­cum­bency, which is bad for ev­ery­one but those who hold of­fice.

Propo­si­tion 20, mean­while, is an an­ti­com­pan­ion bill of sorts. Whereas Propo­si­tion 27 would elim­i­nate the cit­i­zens com­mis­sion, Propo­si­tion 20 would ex­pand its author­ity, giv­ing it the power to draw not just leg­isla­tive lines but con­gres­sional ones as well. The ar­gu­ment for cit­i­zen over­sight of the lat­ter is one notch less com­pelling: Mem­bers of Congress do not draw the lines for their own seats, so the op­por­tu­nity for self-deal­ing is less im­me­di­ate.

But the ar­gu­ments in fa­vor of re­mov­ing re­dis­trict­ing from elected state lead­ers carry over into fed­eral of­fices as well. Rare is the Sacra­mento politician who doesn’t imag­ine him­self or her­self hold­ing forth in the U.S. Capi­tol. Es­pe­cially in this un­for­tu­nate era of term lim­its, Assem­bly mem­bers and state sen­a­tors eye the next of­fice soon af­ter land­ing, and con­gres­sional seats are all the more invit­ing be­cause they come with the po­ten­tial for un­lim­ited ten­ure. The am­bi­tious leg­is­la­tor can use the power of re­dis­trict­ing to craft a seat to run for a few years down the road — the lib­eral Demo­crat from San Fran­cisco or Los An­ge­les who wants a seat in Congress can draw lines that suit his de­mo­graph­ics; the same goes for the con­ser­va­tive out of San Diego County or the Cen­tral Val­ley. More­over, the up-and-com­ing politician knows bet­ter than to an­tag­o­nize mem­bers of Congress, so they work to­gether, at the ex­pense of the pub­lic.

Propo­si­tion 20 ac­knowl­edges that re­al­ity. It de­serves ap­proval.

The pro­po­nents of Propo­si­tion 27 are the op­po­nents of Propo­si­tion 20, and they ad­vance two cu­ri­ous ob­jec­tions: that it wouldn’t ac­com­plish any­thing, and that if it does ac­com­plish any­thing, it will be to Cal­i­for­nia’s detri­ment. Set­ting aside the in­con­sis­tency, one point is fair: Ap­prov­ing Propo­si­tion 20 won’t change Cal­i­for­nia to­mor­row. Po­lit­i­cal re­form — in­clud­ing the cre­ation of the cit­i­zens re­dis­trict­ing com­mis­sion and the re­cently ap­proved “open pri­mary,” which will al­low Cal­i­for­ni­ans to vote across party lines in pri­maries — will not yield in­stant re­sults. It may, how­ever, grad­u­ally break down some of the im­ped­i­ments to ef­fi­ciency and deal-mak­ing that have thwarted Sacra­mento in re­cent years and that have wreaked havoc in Washington as well.

To­day, Cal­i­for­nia’s elected lead­ers rep­re­sent dis­tricts hand­crafted to make it easy for them to avoid chal­lenges from the other party. With few ex­cep­tions, lines are drawn so that their con­stituents ei­ther are over­whelm­ingly Demo­cratic or over­whelm­ingly Repub­li­can, and the strat­egy for re­tain­ing of­fice is to avoid any move that would of­fend the party’s base. That dis­cour­ages mod­er­a­tion and com­pro­mise, and that, in turn, has led to grid­lock of epic pro­por­tions.

By cre­at­ing a cit­i­zens re­dis­trict­ing com­mis­sion, Cal­i­for­ni­ans took one step away from mak­ing that grid­lock a per­ma­nent fea­ture of our pol­i­tics. By ap­prov­ing the open pri­mary, Cal­i­for­ni­ans took an­other. Nei­ther of those re­forms has yet been tested in an elec­tion, so they have yet to al­ter the con­tours of our pol­i­tics, but they de­serve a chance to work, and they have the po­ten­tial to make a dif­fer­ence. If not, why would so many of this state’s in­cum­bents spend so much time fight­ing them? The Times’ en­dorse­ments in the Nov. 2 elec­tion are col­lected upon pub­li­ca­tion at latimes.com/opin­ion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.