Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Legislative Redistricting in California

My blogging has been light due to a severe and sudden attack of employment. During my absence you may have noticed that the California Supreme Court rejected a transparently political Democrat court challenge and ruled that Proposition 77, Governor Schwarzenegger's redistricting initiative, may remain on the ballot. The Wall Street Journal comments here.

Syndicated columnist Jill Stewart is in favor of the initiative, and paints a picture that any honest observer of the California Legislature will recognize immediately:

Most people imagine that when they vote, they do so in a real community based largely on geography -- a 'voting district.' That was true once. But now, the legislature uses computer programs to painstakingly divide voters by party -- not community. Without their knowledge, Republican and Democrat are separated into bizarrely shaped 'districts' so overpopulated with one party that our two-party system is effectively quashed. Think 'The Matrix.' You're force-fed to support a creepy apparatus that wants to control your world. You don't even know it. California voters don't know they're corralled in fake 'districts' and force-fed pre-selected party hacks. The insiders who do know -- the media, the think tanks, the supposed 'civic' groups -- prefer to keep the debate among insiders only. It's such trouble to involve the public.
As someone who has worked on a number of legislative matters in the California Legislature, I can verify that it is a zoo up there in Sacramento. For one thing, the districts are drawn so that seats never change hands. In Californa, if you want to be in the Legislature, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat all you need to do is get nominated, and then you're in your seat for as long as term limits allow. But that's not all. The political makeup of each district is such that generally, only very liberal or very conservative candidates can be elected. So we have a permanent majority of hard-core liberal Democrats doing battle with a permanent minority of hard-core conservative Republicans. Is it any wonder that such ridiculous policy emanates from that place?

The resulting process is ugly. As a general rule, in our legislature policy is not made, it is brokered. Here's how it works: Lobbyists for interest groups who have a stake in an issue write the bills. Often the lobbyists and their clients agree on the legislation, then take the product to a legislative sponsor. Once the sponsor is certain that the bill, as written, has the support of the right interest groups (meaning the ones that donate substantially to him or her) , Legislative Counsel polishes the language, the bill is introduced, and it is voted into law. Depressing, but true.

The old saw is that "lovers of law and sausage should never know how either one is made." True enough. But in California we'd like to at least have something to say about who is making them. Prop 77 would at least give us a chance.

UPDATE: Blogotional share a personal insight, telling us how gerrymandering in California affects him.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'My blogging has been light due to a severe and sudden attack of employment.'

Congratulations on the employment! Condolences on the blogging.

Posted by SkyePuppy

Thursday, August 18, 2005 2:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time and again voters see no significant incumbent turnover. This is what happens when politicians are allowed to pick their voters not the other way around. Creating independent redistricting commissions is one solution to this problem. It was good to see the coverage of this important reform after Sen. McCain's recent trip to campaign for the initiative in California. 

Posted by Cecilia Martinez

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 3:10:00 PM  

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