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A triple whammy for California voters

Fifteen months ago, it seemed possible that Californians might finally be able to loosen the death grip in which the political establishment held their state. That was when voters narrowly adopted a measure that allows citizen commissioners, rather than the Legislature, to draw legislative district lines every 10 years. Redistricting reform was a victory for those who believe that politicians ought to serve the people rather than the two major parties and their web of political lawyers, campaign consultants, fundraisers and advisors.

Last week, the empire struck back. Three times.

First came the end of the once-promising drive for a state constitutional convention. Leaders of Repair California announced that they had taken in only a fraction of the money needed to mount a credible initiative campaign, and complained of being frozen out by the for-profit signature-gathering industry, which they say believed a convention might mean fewer initiatives and therefore less business for them.

Challenging the political status quo, as Repair California sought to do, may require absorbing a bit of it, and it could be that the well-intentioned leaders of the convention effort were not sufficiently armed with know-how, connections or experience to achieve their aims. Democratic Party leaders saw a convention as an attack on their dominance of the Legislature, but Republicans too were afraid of any major overhaul in the rules of engagement.

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Last week’s second blow came when the Assembly rejected Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) as lieutenant governor. Maldonado was one of the few Republicans to cross party lines a year ago to give Democrats the votes they needed to adopt a budget. But in voting to keep him out of the inconsequential position, more than half of the Assembly’s Democrats showed they’re far more comfortable locked in interminable fights with old-school, no-new-taxes-ever Republicans than in helping a moderate pragmatist who is sponsoring a June open-primary ballot measure to blunt the power of both parties.

The final blow was the revelation that Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and more than a dozen Democrats in Congress have together donated $160,000 from their political treasuries for a November ballot measure to scrap Proposition 11 -- the same 2008 redistricting measure described above that caught them by surprise when it passed. They want to wrest back their power to pick their own voters before the reform affects a single election season.

Any reform effort worth pursuing results in push-back from the status quo. The key is to recognize the self-protection schemes of the political power structure for what they are -- and to keep up the pressure. Democracy is worth it.


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