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Prop. 118: Chaos in Sacramento : * Deeply Flawed Reapportionment Initiative No Answer to Gerrymander

Most self-appointed reformers who would change the way the state Legislature redraws its district boundaries--and those of U.S. House seats--seek to remove the reapportionment function from the Legislature altogether. Usually, they try to create a supposedly nonpartisan commission to do the job. Wary as voters may be of the lawmakers revising their own district lines after each census, they also have been dubious about the commission idea.

Proposition 118, an initiative measure on the June 5 ballot, would attempt to reform the system while keeping reapportionment with the Legislature itself. But that does not mean it would overcome the Legislature’s built-in tendency to draw safe new districts that tend to perpetuate members in office. Proposition 118 is deeply flawed for many reasons and should be rejected by the voters.

The major feature of 118 is to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for the approval of any redistricting plan. Presumably this would produce fairness by preventing the majority Democrats from drawing lines at will, subject only to a governor’s veto threat. Proponents argue that Proposition 118 would require the Democrats to draw a plan that is fair to Republicans so that it could get the GOP votes needed to pass.

But Proposition 118 would not necessarily prevent a gerrymander. One possible outcome could be that Republicans will unite to kill any Democratic redistricting plan. Or more likely, Democrats will draw enough safe Republican districts--eight or so would do the trick--that they would attract the GOP votes needed to achieve the two-thirds majority. This could create a gerrymander as distorted as any drawn under the present system.

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Other features of Proposition 118 make it even more cumbersome and likely to lead to legislative paralysis. The initiative would give the governor an absolute veto, with no opportunity by the Legislature to override. And even if a plan got by the governor, it would automatically be submitted to the voters at a referendum in the next statewide election. If the referendum failed, the whole issue would be thrown into the courts.

The process established by Proposition 118 would almost guarantee constant legal uncertainty about the composition of the Legislature. As much as some critics attack the record of achievement--or lack of achievement--of the Legislature under current conditions, the chaotic situation created by Proposition 118 might well assure a legislative body virtually incapable of legislating.


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