SACRAMENTO – As someone who chronicles the political goings-on in California, I rarely offer encouraging news for those who believe in the principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility and individual freedom. Nevertheless, readers frequently implore me to offer some good news. The truth isn’t enough. These folks want to read something positive.
So, here it is. After looking at the current redistricting process, and the new maps offered by a supposedly nonpartisan and fair-minded commission that is doing the bidding for left-wing and ethnic interest groups, I do have some happy news: The new maps – which almost certainly will ensure a two-thirds legislative voting majority for Democrats, who will be sure to raise taxes early and often – are likely to be challenged and, either way, won’t go into effect until at least 2012.
That leaves taxpaying Californians with enough time to sell their assets in our lovely but mismanaged state and find a nice home somewhere east of the Sierra Nevada.
Facetiousness aside, the redistricting debacle spotlights the far-reaching tentacles of the political Left, the impotence of the Republican Party and the outlandish double-standards at work in the high-stakes game of Sacramento politics.
As former California Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel put it, “The Democrats knew what they were doing, and Republicans were asleep at the switch.” He said the commission, comprised of Republicans and Democrats (and members of third parties), features ineffective and liberal Republican members and hyperpartisan Democrats, with the results strongly tilting the new seats in one direction.
Furthermore, Steel notes that the commission was designed, though the language of the initiative that created it, to devise new ethnic-oriented gerrymanders beyond what’s required by the federal Voting Rights Act.
The one commissioner who voted “no” on the new maps, Michael Ward of Fullerton, complained publicly. “In my opinion, the commission failed to fulfill its mandate to strictly apply constitutional criteria and consistently applied race and ‘community of interest’ criteria and sought to diminish dissenting viewpoints.”
Ward has mostly kept quiet – the result, he said, of legal concerns about speaking out. The commission, which will soon find itself in a legal battle over the racial-oriented aspects of the new lines, appears to be circling the wagons, avoiding controversy and hoping critics just go away.
Myriad good-government and business groups long have called for fundamental reforms in the state’s broken political process as the means to keep the state government from falling off the fiscal cliff. Californians don’t agree on much, but everyone who observes politics here agrees that the political system is a mess. Everyone wants to “reform” the process, and high on the priority list has been redistricting, and for good reason.
Legislators have traditionally picked their own boundaries, drawing lines that ensure their re-election. Elected officials want to expend as little effort as possible to stay in office, so California is filled with districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic or overwhelmingly Republican. It’s rare for seats to switch party hands.
In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 11, which created the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw new lines following the 2010 Census. The commission was charged with forming districts for the state Assembly, Senate and the Board of Equalization. Voters then approved Prop. 20, which gave the commission the authority to draw new district lines for Congress.
Sounds good, but you can’t de-politicize this process.
Even though both major parties had the opportunity to vet the new commissioners, a series by reporter John Hrabe at CalWatchdog (the news service where I am editor) revealed that commissioner Gabino Aguirre failed “to disclose his association with a redistricting special interest group. The Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, a politically active community-based organization, has submitted its own redistricting proposals to the commission and mobilized its staff members and volunteers to testify before the commission.”
Another commissioner failed to reveal her political contributions, and the commission has been wracked by allegations of inconsistency and political favoritism.
It’s no surprise that Democrats gained power given that they have expanded their registration in the state while the GOP continues to fade away, but these revelations suggest that the commission is not living up to its mission of fairness and nonpartisanship. What does it say when a commissioner was able to promote district lines that conform closely to those proposed by an activist group with which he is closely allied and that didn’t even raise an eyebrow from the commission or its supporters?
In response to the CalWatchdog reports, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro demanded that Aguirre resign or be removed: “The commission and the governor owe Californians the obligation to ensure that bias and unfairness do not taint the citizens’ redistricting process and experiment. … Unfortunately, Dr. Aguirre’s disclosure failures, and promotion of the ideological agenda of a group which he served in a leadership role, is just the latest in a series of abuses of the Prop. 11 process.”
Del Beccaro told me that he received no response to his concerns. “The Democrats work the system far better than Republicans, but they have more resources,” he told me. “They can take better advantage of the law.”
But what explains why Republicans didn’t properly vet these obviously politically active commission members? All it would have taken is a Google search. Too many Republicans are happy enough to play along as long as they keep their safe seats.
This also reminds us that no gimmick or good-government reform – ranging from open primaries to simple-majority budgets – will fix what ails California. Moderate Republican reformers keep backing policies that enhance Democratic power.
If Californians want to save their state, they need to directly take on the liberal interests that are ruining it. Otherwise, my good news about having time to find real estate in Nevada may turn out less than facetious.
[This article was originally published at the Orange County Register.]