Tuesday, October 25, 2005

End Gerrymandering: YES on 77

Even those outside of California may be aware that we have a rather contentious special election coming up in November. A colleague at work has asked me to comment on the 8 statewide propositions on our ballot, and I must confess I've only just started to delve into the 77 page voters pamphlet. However, one of the propositions ought to be a no-brainer. (I say "ought to be", because, sadly, a lot of people are being taken in by the opposition obfuscation.) Proposition 77, which would end gerrymandering in California, deserves a whole-hearted YES.

After the 2000 census, California's Democrats and Republicans, though extremely polarized in the legislature, struck an unholy alliance in which they colluded to preserve all incumbent parties by drawing a new district map that would make Elbridge Gerry blush. A simple glance at the Senate district map for the Los Angeles area (shown here) should make that perfectly clear. We live in Senate district 22 (shown in brown), in the narrow isthmus that inexplicably connects an amorphous swatch of downtown and east Los Angeles with a mickey-mouse cut-out of Pasadena. As strangely shaped as my Rorschach test of a district is, it is by no means atypical. In fact, when I looked up "gerrymander" in Wikipedia, I found a California congressional district as one of the casebook examples. (Unfortunately, California is not unique in this respect. Illinois and the Texas travesty provide other examples.)


Proposition 77 would take district-drawing out of the hands of the legislature and assign it to a panel of retired judges, chosen through a thoroughly fair and assiduously bipartisan process, and with final approval from the voters. So why would anyone oppose it? Ironically, neither of the major parties are happy about it, as it will likely undo the cozy "safe" districts they had carved out, and possibly create some real competition. What arguments do they put against it? They start with the general smear of trying to associate this initiative, along with most of the others, with Governor Schwarzenegger, whose popularity is sagging lately. One would hope that people would be smart enough to vote on each proposition on its merits, rather than take them all as a referendum on the Governor. Regretably, many people will do just that. There's also the more focused smear of accusing this proposition of trying to "do what they did in Texas", which is an ironic accusation. There is a superficial similarity in that Prop 77 would trigger a redistricting outside the customary decennial cycle, but there the similarity ends. Prop 77 will actually protect us against the blatant partisan redistricting that was done in Texas in 2004 (and in California in 2001). The sooner the better. They cry about "added costs" of "extra elections", but that's bogus. The process will require no extra elections, and is structured to cost half of the current process. They sound the alarm that "three unelected judges will decide everything" (I've spared you the all-caps and exclamation points used in the ballot pamphlet). Well, yes, that's the point: the current problem is that the elected officials have an inherent conflict of interest. And they appeal to partisan fears, warning that "it's a Republican power grab". Um, no, it's a power grab by the people away from the unholy alliance of incumbent partisans.


There is absolutely no good reason to vote against Prop 77 and every good reason to vote for it. Vote YES on 77.

1 comment:

Eric Garcetti said...

Tom:

I enjoyed your posting on Prop 77 on the Echo Park listserv, but wanted to point out that districts would remain gerrymandered in many ways even if Prop 77 passes. Most notably, civil right concerns under the Voting Rights Act would still dictate that certain districts follow demographic patterns along Latino and African-American lines in particular. This might keep the Scott/Cedillo seats looking the way that they do. The Mexican American Political Association, for instance, has endorsed Prop 77 with the idea that seats need to reflect more the ethnic demographics than the political ones. I am not weighing in here whether this is good or bad, merely to comment that many districts would still have the octopus arms that many districts have already.