Common Cause and AARP (??) have joined hands to promote yet another ballot measure that would remove redistricting from the Legislature.
While the press corps allows any measure that removes authority from the Legislature to be called as “reform”, this particular proposal isn’t what it purports to be.
It establishes a “Commission” of citizens. The citizens – or their aunts, uncles, cousins, or in-laws – may not have had any substantive relationship with the world of politics for the preceding 10 years. Rather they will be chosen by lot from a list of registered voters who have voted in two of the last three elections and who (for some reason) sign up for the job. These people would know nothing about party politics or partisan campaigns – or they would have been excluded from the list in the first place.
The Secretary of State would “advise” these Commissioners on the hiring of attorneys and staff. But neither attorneys nor staff could have any connection with the world of partisan politics either – for 10 years preceding their appointment. This apolitical staff would draw the Legislative districts for the decade.
The lines drawn by the staff will inevitably make things better or worse for the Democrats and, better or worse for individual candidates and incumbents planning to seek office in 2012.
Intense lobbying by either party and many candidates (to the Commissioners of their own party) will follow. This lobbying will take place publicly, but that will not lessen its vehemence. If, as I suspect, the Commission drawn plans threaten the Democratic majority, then the Speaker and Pro Tem will condemn it as partisan and Republican.
Since the rules of the initiative mandate that a supermajority is necessary to implement the plans – a supermajority containing at least 5 Democrats – one of two things will occur. Either the Republican Commissioners will join the minor party commissioners and vote to implement the plan over the objections of the Democrats, or one or more of the “independent’ Commissioners will join with the Democrats, block the plan and send the whole thing to the Court.
Voters have said ‘no’ to involving the Court. What is it, five times? But this initiative would send it there – ostensibly as a last resort” – but which is really the likely option.
The alternative would be to rest redistricting with one or more members of the Minority Parties who would apply for the Commission. These highly ideological individuals, hardly representative of the voters of California will constitute the “non Democrat” and “non Republican” members of the pool from which the Commission will be chosen. Voters who “decline to state” a party will not apply in any number: these people are the least interested and involved with the political system.
Will California’s voters be prepared to delegate such an important task as Legislative Redistricting to the adherents of Leon Trotsky or to the California Supreme Court?
Maybe, if you package it as “reform”.
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 a doctorate 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.