The last time the Legislature drew California’s voting districts, only a handful of people knew the unmarked offices where the mapmakers toiled.
Why the secrecy?
To separate those who were drawing the lines from fellow lawmakers’ pleas to have a childhood home or a favorite parish included in their new district -- or to exclude the home of a potential challenger.
“It’s pretty technical work,” said John Burton, the San Francisco Democrat who led the Senate during the 2001 redistricting, “and you can’t do it with somebody coming in every day asking for stupid stuff.”
Backers of Proposition 11 on the Nov. 4 ballot want to install a stronger barrier than unmarked doors between legislators’ self-interest and political mapmaking. They seek to take the job away from the Legislature entirely and give it to a commission of 14 interested citizens who would operate in a public spotlight.
At its simplest, Proposition 11 would remove the Legislature’s conflict of interest in drawing its districts after the 2010 census and each decade thereafter.
But proponents -- who include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the League of Women Voters -- promise more. They argue that independent redistricting will help make the Legislature more capable of solving healthcare, water supply, budget and other intractable troubles.
They reason that when districts are drawn with an overwhelming number of Democratic or Republican voters, as they tend to be when legislators do the job, the general election winner is practically predetermined. In safely drawn districts, competition comes only in primary elections.
To protect themselves from attacks by fellow Democrats or Republicans in the primary campaigns, incumbents tend to follow party dogma, the proponents say. The result is a Legislature with few centrist politicians and frequent partisan gridlock.
Last month, Schwarzenegger signed a state budget that was a record-breaking 85 days late because Republican and Democratic legislators couldn’t compromise. Afterward, the governor immediately touted Proposition 11.
“This is a fixed system,” he told reporters on the Capitol steps, “a system that rewards legislators for rigid partisanship, and a system that punishes legislators for wanting to come in the middle and to go for compromise.”
Other Proposition 11 supporters include Common Cause, the California Taxpayers Assn., AARP, California Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Fighting the measure are the California Democratic Party and some allies, including unions for teachers and government workers. Under current rules, Democrats would control the next redistricting if they maintain their dominance of the Legislature.
Some foes call Proposition 11 a Republican power grab.
Jay Hansen, lobbyist for the State Building & Construction Trades Council, which donated $25,000 against Proposition 11, noted that major donors to the “yes” campaign include Republican oilman T. Boone Pickens and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“People are willing to give big money because they think it’s going to increase the number of Republicans in the Legislature,” said Hansen.
Drafters of Proposition 11 say they’ve got plenty of Democratic support, including former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, former Gov. Gray Davis and former Controller Steve Westly.
“Our goal is not necessarily to try to shake up the entire partisan balance in the Legislature,” said Kathay Feng, director of California Common Cause. “Our goal is to make sure communities and neighborhoods have a voice in redistricting.”
But opponents say the “yes” side’s campaign claim that the measure would make races more competitive is false.
They note that nothing in the initiative requires mapmakers to try to balance Republican and Democratic voters evenly so that district races are more competitive. They call the selection of the redistricting panel convoluted and predict deadlock. Proposition 11 requires nine of 14 commissioners -- balanced among Democrats, Republicans and others -- to adopt final maps.
“If you want to see the same sort of gridlock with redistricting that we’ve seen in the budget, then Prop. 11 is your answer,” said No on Proposition 11 spokesman Paul Hefner.
Several groups with long histories of defending minority voting rights also oppose Proposition 11. They say that some goals it would impose on mapmakers -- including that two Assembly districts be nested inside each state Senate district and that cities be kept intact where possible -- would eliminate the flexibility that line-drawers need to give Latino, Asian and African American neighborhoods enough voting power to sway elections.
Proposition 11 would also make it tougher for them to participate in redistricting, the minority rights groups say. The drafters of Proposition 11 excluded congressional districts to avoid triggering a well-funded opposition campaign by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). A new commission would draw districts only for the state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization, allowing the Legislature to continue crafting California’s congressional districts.
Nonprofit groups cannot afford to participate in two simultaneous redistricting processes, said Nancy Ramirez, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“By adding an extra layer of bureaucracy and another set of hearings to attend,” she said, “community groups will be challenged.”
Feng said Proposition 11 offers minority communities better hope of fair representation than the current process, in which a handful of top lawmakers and their hired technicians carve up the state behind closed doors.
“We actually put everything ahead of the incumbents’ self-interest,” said Feng. “That is what scares the opponents so much -- that we are for the first time taking power away from the sitting legislators and giving it back to the people.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Proposition 11 would take from the Legislature the once-a-decade job of drawing 120 legislative and four Board of Equalization districts and give it to a citizens panel of 14. How the commission would be chosen:
Registered voters apply.
Applicants must show consistent voter registration for the previous five years and have voted in at least two of the last three general elections. In last 10 years, applicant or close relative cannot have been a federal or state political candidate, lobbyist or donor of $2,000 or more to a candidate.
Three state auditors narrow applicant pool to 60.
From remaining applicants, state auditor randomly draws eight to serve on the commission.
These eight select from the other remaining applicants the final six who will serve with them.
Commission must have five Republicans, five Democrats and four members from neither party.
Backers include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, AARP, League of Women Voters, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and California Common Cause. The “yes” side has raised $11 million since January.
Opponents include the California Democratic Party, California Federation of Teachers, California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., California Labor Federation and NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The “no” campaign has raised $365,000 this year.
Source: Times reporting