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Our View: A vote against dysfunction

The Signal editorial board

Posted: October 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: October 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Two measures on the November ballot provide opposing answers to these questions:

Who should draw the boundaries of the districts California’s elected officials represent?

Should it be an impartial citizens’ committee?

Or should it be the elected officials themselves? Those who stand to benefit from tweaking the lines to ensure their re-elections?

Which group is more likely to act in the best interests of the voting public?

If your answer at this point is “Duh. The first group,” you can quit reading after this sentence: Vote yes on Proposition 20, and no on Proposition 27.

If you want to know more, read on.

What the measures mean
First, why are district boundaries important? They can be profoundly influential in vote outcomes.

Imagine you’re an incumbent who wants to keep your seat. A growing population in your district is disgruntled with your politics. So when the chance presents itself, you draw new boundaries to put that group in the next-door district.

An oversimplification, perhaps, but the result can be divided communities, resulting in diluted votes. Or in bizarrely gerrymandered districts that take in part of one population base, then extend a narrow corridor to a distant area and encircle another population of like mind.

Sound unlikely? Take a look at the existing state Legislature districts and you’ll likely change your mind.

Here’s some history: In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 11, the Voters First Act, by margin of 50.9 percent. It authorized the creation of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The commission’s job is to redraw the geographic boundaries of California’s 120 legislative districts and four Board of Equalization districts.

A diverse group of 60 finalists has been selected in preparation for naming the final 14 commission members.

The group’s task is to complete the redistricting work by Sept. 15, 2011, in time for the 2012 election.

The new districts would remain in place until the 2020 census is completed.

Proposition 20 endorses the citizens commission concept and proposes to expand it to include California’s 53 congressional districts. We think that’s a good idea.

Proposition 27 would disband the newly selected citizens’ commission before it gets a chance to show what it can do, returning the task of redistricting back to the state Legislature.

Essentially, it puts elected officials in charge of drawing their own district boundaries. We think that’s a bad idea.

If Proposition 20 and Proposition 27 are both approved by the voters, the proposition with the highest number of yes votes will become law.

Governing from the middle
Among California’s many maladies that inhibit responsible and responsive governance is the growing chasm that has been created by caucus politics.

The Democratic districts move farther left and the Republican districts farther right.

There are few incentives to compromise and govern more from the middle, something that former President Bill Clinton and the Republican-held House of Representatives did with some effectiveness.

Instead, legislative districts are currently gerrymandered to take maximum advantage of pockets of voter registration, further reinforcing the divide.

Proposition 20 stipulates that the Citizens Commission must consider criteria including geographic integrity of cities, counties and neighborhoods and “communities of interest” in adjusting district boundaries.

The measure defines “communities of interest” as a “contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for the purposes of its effective and fair representation.”

The Citizens Redistricting Commission may not be perfect, but it is an improvement over what we have now.

The Legislature has failed at the task of responsible and fair redistricting, preferring to cater to its own self-interests.
It is just another reason why the state Legislature’s approval ratings are at near-record lows.

Across America, we have witnessed Republican and Democratic incumbents being turned out because the voters feel many politicians’ self-serving actions no longer speak for the people.

We like the idea that citizens are taking a more active role in addressing dysfunctional government.

Let’s give the Citizens Redistricting Commission a chance to work and set a higher standard for “in the public good.”

Vote yes on Proposition 20 and no on Proposition 27.


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