The debate over redistricting begins with a premise that voters, lemming like, will mindlessly vote their party rather than weighing the individual merits of the choice before them.

Those that don’t vote party are attributed with many virtues by reformers and critical journalists. Because parties represent the “left” and the “right”, those that don’t vote by party are assumed to be in the “middle”: “moderate” in opinions and not captive to the interest group coteries found to linger suspiciously around the two-party conclaves.

It follows that the more districts we can create that will leave the outcome to these non-party voters, the more California government will veer away from either too liberal or too conservative positions. To achieve majority control of the government, parties will have to put up candidates in these “competitive seats” that compete for the “moderate Middle”. Successful parties will have to incorporate these moderate winners into their midst, becoming more “moderate” as they undergo this digestion.

I think this analysis is incorrect.

First the “decline to state” voters who constitute the bulk of “non party” contributions to the total are not “moderates”. They are the least interested, least educated on politics participants. Typically they are younger women who view voting as an obligation similar to wearing respectable dress. The absence of strong feeling does not a moderate make.

Second, it is basic to the Republican bag of tricks to pound swing voters with as much negative material as their money will allow. This is not to persuade swings to vote Republican, it is to disgust swings so they don’t vote at all – or at least skip voting on the contest at hand. If the swings disappear, then elections become a contest of each party mobilizing their “base” – a contest in which Republicans have an edge (their base being older, whiter, richer and more educated, all factors positively correlated with turnout). Put
succinctly, the greater the number of seats where the outcome will be determined by
“swings”, the more likely it is that the GOP will make gains. (Cf. ACA 4 authored,
not coincidentally by the new Republican leader Villines which calls for the maximization of “competitive” districts as a more important priority than the respecting of city and county boundaries.).

Finally, competent leaders of either party will find ways of protecting individual members who must deviate from party line votes for district reasons. Viz. Lou Correa who overcame a 25 point deficit by Phil Angelides to win his conservative seat. The notion that the Senate Democrats must take Correa-like positions to retain Correa’s seat is simply wrong. Voters hold their own Member accountable, not their Member’s Party.
(Thus the failure of the ‘gang of 5’ in the 1980’s).

Bill Cavala was Deputy Director of the Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services where he worked for over 30 years.

He attended undergraduate and graduate school in the 1960’s and received adoctorate in political science at UC Berkeley. He taught political science at UC Berkeley during the 1970’s while he worked part-time for the State Assembly.

Cavala left teaching at UC Berkeley and went to work for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 1981 until his tenure as Speaker ended in 1995, and he has worked for his five successors as Speaker up to and including Speaker Fabian Nunez.

Mr. Cavala manages election campaigns for Democratic candidates.


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