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