Reapportionment, the political blockbuster with almost as many sequels as some popular Hollywood horror movies, may be making another appearance next year at a voting booth near you.
In case you’re a bit hazy on political science, reapportionment is the drawing of new state, local and congressional election districts every 10 years to reflect population changes revealed by the federal census.
It’s a highly controversial process because the way districts are drawn can determine the partisan makeup of the Legislature and a state’s delegation to the House of Representatives for a decade or more.
And the partisan split in the Legislature and Congress can determine the fate of bills dealing with environmental protection, school funding, crime, consumer rights and myriad other subjects.
Republican and Democratic reapportionment battles reached the California ballot three times in the 1980s, and it could happen again in 1990.
Six reapportionment initiatives are targeted for the ballot next year, measures that would either take away the Legislature’s power to redraw legislative and congressional districts or limit or eliminate the majority party’s ability to dictate district lines.
There is a good chance that a couple of those proposals will get enough signatures to make next June’s ballot, creating the potential for the same type of confusing, expensive, multi-initiative battle that voters faced last year when they decided the fate of five insurance-related measures and two political reform initiatives.
And there is a slim possibility that the Legislature will join the fray with a compromise proposal of its own.
The looming ballot battles stem from the early 1980s, when Democrats, then in control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, pushed through reapportionment plans that maximized the number of Democratic seats in the Legislature and California’s delegation to the House of Representatives.
Voters, acting on Republican-backed referendums, overturned those plans in June, 1982.
But in November, 1982, voters rejected a Republican proposal to give reapportionment duties to an appointed commission. And in December, 1982, the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown enacted slightly revised redistricting measures.
Another GOP bid to create a reapportionment commission was turned down by voters in 1984.
Republicans, a minority in the Legislature for most of the last 30 years, want to avoid a repeat of the 1980s reapportionment in the 1990s. To do that, they need to keep the governor’s office, win control of at least one house of the Legislature or change reapportionment procedures.
They seem to have a good chance of keeping the governor’s office, although U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), the likely GOP nominee for governor, was running neck and neck with Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, the likely Democratic nominee, in a recent poll.
But even some GOP leaders acknowledge they have almost no chance of winning control of either house of the Legislature in 1990.
The stakes will be even greater than usual next year because fast-growing California will probably have five or six more congressional districts after the 1990 census, giving the state nearly 12% of House seats.
Democratic lawmakers see the latest round of initiatives as new attempts by Republicans to increase their numbers in the Legislature and Congress, although some of the measures have non-Republican support.
Republicans contend the current system can lead to an abuse of power, although they generally agree that any change probably will benefit them.
The six initiatives are:
* A proposal by San Mateo County Supervisor Tom Huening, a Republican, that would give reapportionment duties to a 12-member commission--five Democrats, five Republicans and two people who are not members of either major party. The panel would be appointed by three retired appellate court judges, who would pick from nominations made by nonprofit, nonpartisan “public interest organizations.”
* A measure by Gary Flynn, a Marin County restaurateur and independent with numerous ties to Republicans. Flynn’s proposal would require two-thirds votes in the Legislature and majority approval by voters to adopt new reapportionment plans. It also includes some ethics provisions for the Legislature.
* An initiative by Assembly Republican leader Ross Johnson of La Habra that would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for reapportionment proposals. Among other things, it would also limit the Assembly Speaker’s powers, toughen lawmakers’ conflict-of-interest requirements and bar them from accepting honorariums from lobbyists’ employers.
* A measure by Sen. Bill Leonard (R-Big Bear) that would require at least half of the state’s legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts to be “competitive,” meaning that Republican and Democratic voter registration in the districts would have to be within two percentage points of statewide registration. (The Board of Equalization is a state tax panel.)
* A proposal by Wade Bruce Lee II, a Republican and executive director of the California Business League, that, among other things, also would require two-thirds legislative votes for reapportionment bills.
* An initiative by John Stanaland, a Laguna Beach attorney, that would give reapportionment powers to the secretary of state.
The Huening, Flynn and Johnson measures are intended for the June ballot. Huening and Flynn predict their proposals will get the 595,485 signatures of registered voters needed to qualify. Johnson’s press secretary, Anne Richards, said the Johnson measure probably would not attract enough signatures to qualify for the June ballot.
Lee says his proposal is for next November’s ballot.
Leonard says he’ll go for the November ballot if he can raise the money. He describes his proposal as a backup or supplement to the potential June measures.
Stanaland did not return several phone calls from a reporter inquiring about his plans.
Republican legislators are split over whether to back the Huening proposal or to support a measure that would require two-thirds votes in the Assembly and Senate to approve a reapportionment bill.
Currently, there are enough Republicans in either house to block a two-thirds-vote bill.
“We are looking to remove the crap shoot,” said Senate Republican leader Ken Maddy of Fresno, who is critical of the Huening approach. “When you go to a commission or to court it becomes more of a crap shoot.”
Huening says his proposal draws opposition from lawmakers in both parties because it would prevent them from drawing districts that favor incumbents.
“Most people that I talk to believe there is an inherent conflict of interest having legislators have anything to do in drawing their own districts,” he said.
Sen. Bill Lockyer, a Hayward Democrat who is trying to put together a bipartisan compromise, says there are problems with both the Huening and the two-thirds vote proposals.
Requiring a two-thirds vote to approve reapportionment bills would tend to produce a stalemate or “an incumbent-protection plan,” he says.
Flynn contends that the voter approval requirement in his plan and another provision barring the Legislature from overriding a gubernatorial veto of a reapportionment bill would prevent pro-incumbent reapportionments.
Lockyer says he would like to see a reapportionment commission. “I just don’t like the membership and the (reapportionment) guidelines that would apply in the case of Huening,” he says.
For one thing, Lockyer contends, the Huening proposal’s competitive district requirement is unfair to Democrats.
The initiative says the greatest possible number of districts should be competitive and it defines competitive the same way the Leonard measure does: within two percentage points of statewide Democratic and Republican registration.
Lockyer says it would be fairer to take into consideration voter turnout and party loyalty when defining competitive, since Republicans tend to vote in greater numbers and be more loyal to their party than Democrats.
Stressing competitive districts will boost campaign spending and lead to the election of more lawmakers who “tend to play it safe and are always looking for the middle of the road,” Lockyer adds.
“There should be some bundle of competitive districts. There should be more than is currently the case. But to (put too much emphasis on it) is not a good idea, especially when they don’t define it correctly.”
Huening says that Lockyer “has a point” about using turnout to define competitive districts. “A turnout approach could be designed to be reasonably neutral,” Huening says. “In fact, there are a number of Republicans that would rather have a turnout approach.”
However, Huening contends, a turnout definition “tends to have more of a partisan spin to it, one way or another. We chose to leave it strictly partisan-neutral.”
Huening denies his proposal is pro-Republican, saying it has the support of the League of Women Voters and some Democrats, although he says in the short term it might result in the election of more Republicans “because Republicans have been disadvantaged (in the last reapportionment).”