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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / BALLOT MEASURES : Common Cause Opposes Plan for Redistricting Commission

TIMES STAFF WRITER

California Common Cause, the government watchdog group normally at odds with state politicians, announced Tuesday that it will join Democratic legislators and members of Congress in opposing a June ballot measure that could cost many lawmakers their jobs.

Proposition 119, drafted by a San Mateo County supervisor and strongly supported by the League of Women Voters, would create a 12-member commission to select new boundaries for the state’s legislative and congressional districts and for the Board of Equalization.

The initiative’s supporters include Republican lawmakers, some local officials from both major parties, and the business community. It is opposed by most Democratic elected officials, who would lose the power to draw their own districts if the measure passes on June 5.

Another redistricting initiative, Proposition 118, would require that any plan containing new districts be approved by a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature and ratified by the voters. Common Cause announced earlier that it would oppose that measure.

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The Common Cause announcement Tuesday came amid a fierce effort by Democratic officeholders to pressure nonpartisan groups and others to back away from Proposition 119. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) has said the League of Women Voters was naive to back the initiative, and he suggested that the league’s members “stay in the kitchen” rather than get involved in partisan politics.

Common Cause criticized a set of guidelines in Proposition 119 that would govern the way new districts are drawn after the 1990 Census. The group said the proposed rules were “overly rigid” and would prevent districts from reflecting “communities of interest” that do not follow existing geographic or local government boundaries.

Among other things, the guidelines prevent districts from crossing certain county boundaries and restrict the number of times a city or county can be divided among various districts.

Common Cause also charged that the initiative would give Republicans an unfair advantage and would not, as its proponents claim, open the redistricting process to the general public. Only well-funded special interest groups and the major political parties would be able to participate because of the costs involved and the complicated rules governing the process, Common Cause said.

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Brenda J. Robinson, an analyst for Common Cause, said the group supports taking redistricting away from the Legislature but not in the way envisioned by Proposition 119. “The criteria are so extremely flawed and biased that we feel this would be a giant step backward from the unresponsive and inadequate system we have today,” Robinson said.

Bob Marks, a spokesman for the Proposition 119 campaign, said Common Cause refused to consider any plan that differed from its own model proposal, which would create a five-member commission appointed by legislators to draw the lines.

“We’re trying to work in the real world,” Marks said. “Clearly the system needs to be reformed, and we think our proposal is the best opportunity for doing that.”

Marks also condemned Brown and others for using “strong-arm tactics” to try to pry away support from the initiative. Brown’s efforts, first detailed in the newsletter Political Pulse, have included an attempt to get A. Alan Post, a respected and retired legislative analyst, to renounce his support for Proposition 119.

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But Post, a Democrat who worked for the Legislature for nearly 30 years, told The Times that he will stick by his endorsement of the initiative despite Brown’s pressure. He said he met with Brown in April but told him later he will not reverse his position.


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