| While most of the Calitics editorial board is conventioning in Denver this week I'm holding down the fort back here in California. I love the Mile High City, but with the onset of Monterey's summer I don't think I'm going to miss much.
Which gives me time to focus on one of the ongoing arguments over this fall's ballot, specifically over Proposition 11 - redistricting reform. Over at the California Progress Report Frank Russo has been hosting a running debate on the topic, with Democratic redistricting expert Bill Cavala taking on all challengers in his effort to explain why Prop 11 is a bad idea.
Cavala defends himself well and certainly doesn't need my help, but today's pro-Prop 11 article from the president of the CA branch of the AARP is so full of flaws that I felt compelled to add my two cents.
Jeannine English's article repeats the two most common errors of Prop 11 advocates: 1) making the assumption that legislative-controlled redistricting is at the core of our state's problems, and 2) that redistricting reform will produce a less partisan legislature and therefore solve our state's problems. Both are completely false. It is a reform in search of a problem. From English's article:
The question California voters should ask themselves this November is this: "is the status quo in Sacramento working for me?" Considering the state's ongoing budget problems, lack of health care reform despite years of debate, regular cuts to social services, and a host of other issues that are not being properly addressed in the state, the answer from all but political insiders will likely be "no, the status quo is not working for me."...
So now its time for voters to get it done. Prop. 11, written over two years by voting rights attorneys and experts in consultation with Californians of all ideological persuasions, will create fair redistricting in California so incumbents are not guaranteed their reelection but actually have to work for their votes. With Prop 11's passage, legislators will have to work better together to solve the problems Californian's care about, instead of staying in their partisan corners.
This is a slick move to cast Prop 11 as a solution to the state's problems, but it ignores some important truths. The reason Sacramento is broken is because a far-right Republican minority bent on destroying public services has repeatedly exploited the 2/3 rule to prevent the state from putting its fiscal house in order. Those two problems - a wingnut Republican caucus and the 2/3 rule - are without a doubt the major obstacles to a state government that works.
Redistricting reform solves neither of these problems. Instead it stems from the misguided belief that what California has is too much partisanship - a stance that lets the Republicans off the hook and hides from voters the real work Democrats have done to compromise and fix the budget.
It also errs in assuming that it's even possible to make competitive districts in California. There's no way to make San Francisco or south Orange County anything but a safe seat for one party or the other without gerrymandering on a far more egregious scale than anything currently done.
That being said, is there a significant downside to Democrats from Prop 11, even if it's a pointless reform? After all, Washington State has used a similar independent process to draw districts since 1983 and today Dems have 2/3 majorities in both houses of the state legislature.
In fact downsides do exist. The "independent commission" is not an accurate representation of the state's political demography. Republicans and Democrats would have the same number of seats on the commission, despite the fact that Democrats have over a million more registered voters in California. Prop 11 gives Republicans an artificial advantage that they have not earned and do not deserve.
Bill Cavala has argued convincingly that a redistricting commission could wind up shifting enough seats to the Republicans to move Democrats from having a realistic shot at 2/3 majorities to having to defend their majority. And he quite rightly points out that the current "moderates" in the Republican Party have consistently voted in lockstep with the wingnuts, suggesting how out of touch Prop 11's proponents are.
The most frustrating aspect of Prop 11 may be how much time and energy it is diverting from the real issues facing California. Why aren't the so-called "good government" groups making a stronger push to get rid of the 2/3 rule? We can see its damaging effect on the state right now with a budget crisis dragging on with no end in sight. If groups like the AARP really want to fix a broken California, they should direct their resources to fixing that issue.