Are those of you in CA following Arnold’s attempt to reform the gerrymandering system? I’ve often said I think that gerrymandered voting districts are among the three biggest items undercutting our representative democracy (the other two being activist judges and the transfer of what is essentially law-making power but what is dubbed “rulemaking authority” to unelected bureaucrats in agencies).
Here’s an editorial from today’s WSJ talking about what Arnold is doing in CA:
Sacramento Strikes Back
July 18, 2005; Page A12
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is rolling the dice by ordering a November 8 special election that has the potential to end politics-as-usual in California and beyond. So naturally, Sacramento’s political elites are fighting back, even if it means taking the low road.
The governor’s reforms include a modest teacher tenure measure that would give principals more time – five years instead of the current two – to evaluate new instructors before granting them jobs for life. Another is designed to reduce perpetual government overspending. But Arnold’s most potent initiative would transfer the authority to draw California’s voting districts from the legislature to a panel of bipartisan retired judges. Of the 153 seats ostensibly up for grabs last November – 53 Congressional seats and 100 in the state legislature – not a single one changed parties.
The current system allows politicians to determine legislative and Congressional boundaries – which essentially means lawmakers can choose their voters, not vice versa. And it’s a system that has resulted in a political class that answers first and foremost to its special interest patrons. This single ballot measure would go a very long way toward injecting competition into a political process in which incumbents currently hold office as long as they like.
The proposition has polled well, so it was no surprise that California’s Democrat-controlled legislature, desperate to preserve these sinecures, initially responded with a counterproposal that would allow a seven-member “citizens commission” to redraw districts. A majority of the members would be chosen by the lawmakers, who would appoint commissioners who do as they’re told. Sort of like the puppet regime that Japan set up in China prior to World War II.
That plan was going nowhere, when earlier this month state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat and former leader of the state senate, decided to take matters into his own hands by suing to have the Governor’s redistricting proposal simply removed from the ballot on a technicality.
Mr. Lockyer says he’s just doing his job. And there are discrepancies between the redistricting petition circulated for signatures and the version sent to his office for review, which is the basis for the suit. But these are minor by any reasonable interpretation – e.g., using the word “select” rather than “appoint,” or “provided” instead of “specified” – and in no way deceitful.
Mr. Lockyer, who’s running for state Treasurer next year, clearly has his own agenda and a history of using the AG’s office – which titles and summarizes initiatives – to make partisan mischief. His outrage seems more selective than principled, and it’s hard to believe he would be filing lawsuits based on semantics if these discrepancies were attached to a ballot measure for universal preschool or higher taxes for education.
The initiative is now in the hands of a judge, who last week denied a motion by the Democratic Assembly Speaker and Democratic Senate Pro Tem to join Mr. Lockyer’s supposedly nonpartisan suit. A hearing is set for later this month, but in the meantime these actions demonstrate just how far the Sacramento political class will go to preserve its fiefdoms.
The latest chatter is that the Legislature might be willing to accept the Governor’s redistricting plan if he would back a constitutional amendment that loosens the current legislative term limits. But the only way to alter the incumbent mindset that plagues the political class is to create conditions for competitive elections. Loosening the term limit law would have the opposite effect.
Some 80 citizen initiatives have been filed with California’s Secretary of State this year, not all of them helpful. But Californians keep resorting to direct democracy because their politicians are shielded from voter accountability. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s determination to challenge this cozy status quo has made him the target of tens of millions of dollars in union-financed attack ads and his approval rating has fallen as a result. Taking reform to the voters is risky, but in doing so Arnold is simply keeping his word. If California wanted a risk-averse Governor, it would have stuck with Gray Davis.