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Gerrymandering and its critics have been around since the days of Elbridge Gerry's original Gerry-mander. And as long as there have been critics of gerrymandering, there have been out of power parties seeking to leverage that sentiment to get a shot at doing a little gerrymandering of their own under the guise of Good Government "reform."

This is the case with Prop 11, which is being sold as such a reform, but which in fact seeks to gerrymander the state for the purpose of guaranteeing that the status quo is locked in for the next decade, a firewall against what looks to be a political watershed shift away from the annual budget battle and inevitable borrow-and-cut deals brokered by business-friendly conservative and moderate democrats. In fact, the Governor's current decision to call for a special budget session between the election and the time that the new legislature convenes gives the game away as well: If Democrats manage to get a 2/3 majority in both houses, they will be able to raise taxes and pass a balanced budget without asking permission from Gov. Schwarzeneggar or the hardline anti-tax "drown the government in a bathtub" Republican rump minority.

What Prop. 11 would do is take the power to draw district lines away from the majority party in the legislature - which reflects the partisan balance in the electorate as a whole, given the latest registration figures (Democrats 44.4%, Republicans 31.7%, Decline to state 19.9%) - and hands it over instead to a Legislative leadership-appointed panel of 5 Republicans (35%), 5 Democrats (35%), and 4 of neither party (29%), who because of a poorly written line in the bill, are excluded if they have voted in all three of the past 3 elections, believe it or not.

This prop would thus give Republicans 3% extra, Decline to state 9% extra, and would take away 9.4% from Democrats. Fair?

Supporters of prop 11 have argued that the state's districts are uncompetitive and thus unfair, and yet in this election alone, there are several seats in the Assembly and State Senate races that are currently very close, and could go either way. Things are competitive right now, but only in one direction, and they are competitive because Democrats in red districts busted their asses registering new voters and tirelessly organizing to run local challengers against supposedly safe Republican incumbents. It can be done. The thing that has made the state uncompetitive is the Republican party's self-destructive insistence on far right candidates in all races, ceding huge parts of the state instead of sucking it up and running liberal Republicans of the sort that used to regularly get elected in the Bay Area and other liberal communities.

The fact of the matter is that there is no politically disinterested person that could draw perfect districts, and there is no perfect district that can be fair in any absolute sense. Saying it's not fair to let the majority party draw the lines, and then letting the minority party draw lines as well isn't any more fair, it just produces a set of districts skewed in a different direction is all. Every line drawn shapes a district, not only in terms of partisan balance but also in terms of ethnicity, regional rivalries, economy, urbanity, agriculture and water rights interests, internal party primary factional balance, and local political eccentricities. There is no "fair" hanging out there in the aether like a Platonic form. Once a line is drawn, some interests will benefit and some interests will lose. Anyone telling you differently is probably selling you something.

If we wanted to make incumbants responsive to local sentiment, if we wanted to make races competitive, if we wanted to guard against gerrymandering, there are a lot more things we could do that would be more effective than handing the lines over to a bipartisan panel. Right off the top of my head:

Publicly financed elections, smaller limits on campaign donations, free ad time for all candidates qualified for the ballot, proportional representation (no district lines, no gerrymandering), increasing the number of seats (so as to shrink the districts and lessen the amount of ad time and thus money needed to run a campaign), and most importantly of all, convincing the Republican party to run liberal candidates in liberal parts of the state, and moderate ones in moderate parts of the state, would all go a long way towards giving Californians better choices.

All Prop 11 is trying to do is use the rhetorical cover of good government reform to rig the game so that districts can be drawn to deny Democrats (and thus liberals within the Democratic party) a 2/3 supermajority in the decade to come, so that all budget and tax votes will have to ask permission from the same Howard Jarvis anti-tax crowd, and be brokered by the "any deal's a good deal as long as I'm in the final photo op" Don Peratas of the world.

In short, if you like the way things are going right now with the California state government, you'll love Prop 11. We have a chance to finally break out of this borrow and cut "emergency" bond style of governance, but Prop 11 could very well delay that moment for another decade, by gerrymandering enough "fair and balanced" districts to ensure that the deciding votes remain in the hands of conservative pro-corporate politicians.

Don't fall for it.

originally at surf putah

Originally posted to wu ming on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 09:20 PM PST.

Poll

Gerrymandering is

4%2 votes
27%13 votes
18%9 votes
25%12 votes
6%3 votes
2%1 votes
4%2 votes
2%1 votes
2%1 votes
8%4 votes

| 48 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  tip jar (12+ / 0-)

    for good government reform that isn't a trojan horse.

    surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

    by wu ming on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 09:21:51 PM PST

  •  So you're OK with Texas GOP redistricting too? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    manish, TheCrank, Anne Elk

    After all, it's just a majority party enjoying their hard-earned political spoils, right?

    Personally, I don't like gerrymandering by either party.  Proposition 11 is not ideal, but the need for redistricting reform is real.  The fact that a few competitive districts exist doesn't mean that many incumbents haven't managed to drawn themselves safe districts to guarantee a job for life.

    I don't know what the perfect solution is, but one idea would be to let a computer program generate the starting point - drawing district boundaries based on population centers and county lines, for example - and then let the parties negotiate on revisions to that plan.

    "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." Mark Twain, as quoted by Barack Obama 6/30/08 Independence, MO.

    by SunWolf78 on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 09:32:05 PM PST

    •  mid-decade redistricting was the problem (3+ / 0-)

      a party that gets too aggressive about its gerrymandering tends to lose a lot of seats in a change election, since it spreads the districts too thin.

      computer programs are human creations, and thus as political as anything else. there is no neutral, everything preferences one thing or the other.

      a discussion on what principles are most important is worthwhile, but this presumption that there's some inherently fair way of doing it is a mirage, IMO. and doing it to make blue states as close as possible while gerrymandering red states is as clear as shell game as there is.

      surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

      by wu ming on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 09:42:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You're playing the right wing's game (3+ / 0-)

      You're so upset with the current system you're willing to support anything that comes down the pike offering itself as a reform.

      You need to be smarter than that. Californians need to be smarter than that. The status quo is better than a bad reform. Voting for Prop 11 is like hitting the TV to fix the picture.

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day
      Neither is California High Speed Rail

      by eugene on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 10:09:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I thought that term limits (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, wu ming, highacidity

    for Senate and Assembly members were supposed to make races "more competitive" by ensuring turnover -- obviously that was just another scam.

    I persuaded my in-laws and spouse to vote NO on 11, because I don't trust appointed commissions -- at least with the legislature we can vote the bastards out in favor of a new set of bastards, and if local groups can take the Obama model and apply it on a smaller scale to their campaigns, then who knows how competitive things can become?

    My marriage doesn't need protecting, thank you very much.

    by Cali Scribe on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 09:59:04 PM PST

  •  Prop 11 and the GOP (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anne Elk, raymichael

    Democrats controlled redistricting in 2000 and everyone got safe seats.  When one party dominates like the Democrats, the other will dwindle rapidly if districts are drawn fairly.  Proposition 11 looks to me like good policy and likely good politics too.

    You have the power to change America. Yes. We. Can.

    by CA Pol Junkie on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 10:04:58 PM PST

    •  You didn't even read the diary, I'm guessing (3+ / 0-)

      The point wu ming is making is that there is NOTHING to ensure the districts will be drawn fairly with Prop 11.

      Have you asked yourself why you are in agreement with Arnold Schwarzenegger and in disagreement with the entire progressive movement in California? Some political junkie you are. You're being played for a fool by the wingnuts.

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day
      Neither is California High Speed Rail

      by eugene on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 10:11:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  actually, this looks to replicate 2000 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene

      not replace it. dems settled in 2000 in order to avoid republican lawsuits, it was a moderate compromise position to give each party their share and not pursue a more aggressive gerrymandering.

      while the rhetoric is "let's change the system," this in fact will most likely give you another decade of what we currently have.

      this is in part a civil war within the dem party, with the cut-a-deal moderates siding with republican and conservative donors in hopes of retaining their dealmaking clout in a narrowly divided state government (in the sense that dems with less than 2/3 are forced to act as a 50-50 split by california law).

      if you want out of this wretched box, vote no on 11.

      surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

      by wu ming on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 11:18:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am voting for it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raymichael

    Something has to change. The Cuban Central Committee has more turnover than California's legislature. I can't be sure that this will help but we have to start somewhere to create more competitive seats. California's government (and I use the term advisedly) is a disgrace. Let's see if this does anything because it cannot get much worse.

    McCain: Out of touch and out of time.

    by Anne Elk on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 10:07:42 PM PST

    •  You're falling for their trap (3+ / 0-)

      It doesn't concern you at all that Arnold Schwarzenegger and his right-wing allies have funded the Yes on 11 campaign? That the entire progressive movement has come out against it, including minority voting rights groups?

      You can't vote for any old reform just because you want change. You need to be smarter than that.

      Tell me what exactly Prop 11 will fix. I would like to hear your precise reasoning. Otherwise you're doing the equivalent of hitting a TV to fix the picture - likely to do more damage in the process without fixing any underlying problem.

      As to turnover, the CA legislature turns over every 6-8 years owing to term limits. Are you even paying attention to this state?

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day
      Neither is California High Speed Rail

      by eugene on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 10:13:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's not going to change one thing (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene, tiggers thotful spot, wu ming

      The purpose of this initiative, funded as it is by a right-wing Texas millionaire, is to get districts drawn that are more favorable to Republicans. How is that going to solve California's budget problems? The 2/3 rule needs to go, that's the problem, the ability of a small minority to hold up the process. How is designing districts that allow Republicans to make gains they can't now make going to change the dynamic in Sacramento? It's likely to make it worse, but this is typical faux good government bullshit that progressives can't help but fall for. What's next, are you going to support Arnold's open primary initiative so we can get more Diane Feinsteins? Because that's Arnold's real goal, more Republicans, and more centrist Democrats. By 2012, Republicans will be lucky they have 14 seats in the House delegation, do this redistricting, and they might have 24. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Don't like the Democrats, challenge them in a primary.

    •  in this election (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene

      7 or 8 assembly seats may flip, 3 or 4 state senate seats, and several congressional ones. how is that not competitive? the fact of the matter is that the state itself is regionally segregated in a way that self-gerrymanders, be it republicans in the socal suburbs or democrats in the bay area.

      california's government is a disgrace because taxes and ballots require a 2/3 supermajority, and the GOP is determined to sink the state with its 33%. unless that is dealt with, no redistricting will sole the state's fundamental problems.

      surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

      by wu ming on Sun Nov 02, 2008 at 11:12:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Then why isn't the Democratic Party (0+ / 0-)

        trying to overthrow the two-thirds rule? In my 25 years in CA I have not seen one real attempt to overthrow this amazingly dumb idea. We do not in fact have a Democratic Party worth a damn in CA.

        McCain: Out of touch and out of time.

        by Anne Elk on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 07:30:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  because you need TWO THIRDS to repeal it (0+ / 0-)

          in the state legislature. catch-22. as for initiatives, there was one to get rid of 2/3 just a couple of years ago that failed, that the democratic party backed. but you weren't paying attention.

          it takes a huge wave election to be in a place to get rid of this rule. several democrats, including the incoming speaker of the assembly, karen bass, have spoken openly about this very problem. some have suggested a constitutional convention.

          but in order to know about that, you have to be paying attention instead of just complaining and then voting for the republican-backed initiative. some reform.

          surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

          by wu ming on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 08:21:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  They are. (0+ / 0-)

          Speaker Karen Bass has made this a priority. So has incoming Senate President Darrell Steinberg. If you paid attention to California politics you might have known that.

          I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day
          Neither is California High Speed Rail

          by eugene on Mon Nov 03, 2008 at 03:36:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Prop 11 gives R's unearned clout (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, tiggers thotful spot, wu ming

    Just like Arnie's last attempt to snooker us, it makes it sound reasonable for a "bipartisan" panel to redistrict.

    In fact, it gives both D and R parties equal control over redistrictring even if ones manages to get only 10% of the vote!  That's a pretty good deal if you're the permanent minority party.  And if the non-R, non-D people on the panel are actually closet Repulicans, it gives them a chance at competely controlling redistricting.  

    Bottom line, it gives the Repubicans evem odds (arguably, hetter than even odds) to gain a decisive MAJORITY of CA's house seats for the next 10 years, in spite of having a decisive MINORITY of the votes.

    Bad, bad, news.

    Really bad news.

  •  It's a shitty Proposition (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, wu ming

    frankly just like most of 'em. My default position is almost always NO!

    We have turnover in the Legislature due to term limits, but the seats don't change hands from one party to the other. The turnover is actually very significant -- and costs us some heroes like Santa Monica's Sheila Kuehl, the sponsor of SB 840, the California Single Payer Health Care Bill (Twice passed and twice vetoed by Governor Steroidinator)

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