"The budget thing absolutely argues for redistricting reform," asserts Tony Quinn, co-editor of the Target Book, which charts legislative races. "These people don't know to negotiate because there's no pressure from voters."
Of the 15 GOP senators, 13 represent districts that are solidly Republican in voter registration: 47% to Democrats' 32% on average. By contrast, the statewide registration favors Democrats: 43% to 34%.
That means those Republican senators don't have to pay any attention to Democratic voters. In fact, they'd better not if they want to avoid a Republican primary fight.
One of the two other Republicans, Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria, represents a sharply divided district: 38% Republican, 40% Democrat. He's up for reelection next year and had to heed his voters, not his party caucus. He worried about local businesses and health clinics being stiffed by the state. So, weeks ago, he broke from the caucus and voted for the budget.
The other Senate Republican with a competitive district is Jeff Denham, who represents an area stretching from Merced to Salinas. It favors Democrats 46% to 38%. But he doesn't have to concern himself with those voters again. He's termed out and moving to the right, plotting a run for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination in 2010. Denham was one of the most hard-core budget blockers.
Not everyone agrees that less gerrymandering would elect more moderate legislators. Many point out that lawmakers still must be nominated by their parties.
"If you want more moderate candidates, more moderates need to go vote," reasons Sen. Jim Battin (R-La Quinta).
But independent redistricting would lead to more competitive elections in November. More legislators would be forced to listen to voters of both parties. They'd be compelled to compromise in the Capitol.
Considering what's doable in the next three weeks, the most important is redistricting reform. And, lest we forget, Democratic leaders promised it two years ago.