The Republican “Voters First” Initiative

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At this weekend’s Executive Board meeting for the California Democratic Party, the resolutions committee (hey, that’s me!) will be taking a look at the initiatives that will appear on the November ballot. There are some initiatives that should be rejected out of hand. The anti-marriage equality and the parental notification fall under this category. We’ve already rejected parental notification (twice!) and the CDP platform includes a plank supporting marriage equality.

But when there are 10+ initiatives on the ballot, there are some initiatives that aren’t as cut and dried. Chief among these is the “California Voters First” Initiative. I’ve written about this before, and I still think that not only is it a pseudo-reform, it’s a Republican-leaning pseudo-reform.

I call it a pseudo-reform simply because of the underlying demographics are moving in such a pattern that we are clumping on ideological grounds. The coasts will continue to vote more progressively while the inland areas will be more conservative. Given the constraint of drawing geographically contiguous districts, unless we want to start cutting horizontal swaths across the state, we won’t have competitive districts. Sure, we could make a handful of districts more competitive. One or two in the LA area, and maybe one in the Bay Area/Central Valley. And that’s out of 80 Assembly Seats.

The Republican leaning part? Well, it grants Republicans an equal voice in redistricting to Democrats and “Decline to Staters”. Well, it does for now. Basically, it grants the top two parties 5 seats each, and 4 seats to DTS/others:

“The Citizens Redistricting Commission shall consist of 14 members, as follows: five who are registered with the largest political party in California based on registration, five who are registered with the second largest political party in California based on registration, and four who are not registered with either of the two largest political parties in California based on registration.”

According to the latest registration figures, Democrats hold a 43.75%-32.53% registration advantage over the Republicans, with 19.4% declining to state a party. So Democrats have a very substantial registration advantage, yet Republicans have the SAME number of seats? What kind of fairness is that? Why do we afford one party a voice so disproportionate to their registration figures for so little gain.

Another concern with this initiative is that it completely ignores the possibility of a legitimate third party developing. So, if one party splits into two, say the Republicans eventually split into their social and fiscal conservative branches, only the larger branch would be represented, while the smaller branch would be forced to fight for the scraps of the 4 seats.

This is a poorly-formed solution in search of a problem. Redistricting is not the problem, and it would make little difference to the outcome. Do we need to improve the redistricting process? Yes, but, the solution is not to peg the process to the 2-party system while ceding power to the lesser party.

Brian Leubitz is the founder and publisher of Calitics, a progressive open source news organization for California politics. Prior to starting Calitics, he was an attorney and more recently he obtained a masters degree in public policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the Univeristy of California, Berkeley. This article is republished with his permission.

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