Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Slay the gerrymander

It's all falling apart.

Arnold Schwarzeneggar, believe it or not, seemed to be our best hope for making California’s government work. But now our dysfunctional system looks like it's going to chew him up and spit him out.

Here's the way the system currently works. Legislators get to decide where voting district lines are drawn. Naturally, they form the districts in such a way that picks and chooses populations they know will vote for their party. This is called gerrymandering. So what we have is a bunch of districts that are either strictly Democrat or strictly Republican. Since it’s a foregone conclusion which party is going to win each district, the real battle isn’t in the general election; it’s in the primary election. So politicians only have to appeal to the base of their party to win, and they don't need to moderate their positions. This gives us a polarized legislature comprised of far-left Democrats and far-right Republicans, which doesn’t accurately represent the majority of Californians who are proudly centrist. It's no wonder the legislature can't get anything done. And it's no wonder Californians have to go through the flawed initiative process to accomplish anything. Think about the last regular election for governor. Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican, who could have easily defeated Gray Davis, couldn't get past the far-right Bill Simon in the primary. The only reason the moderate Schwarzeneggar was able to win was because he skipped the primary through the initiative process.

Schwarzeneggar has a lot of new ideas in his initiatives. Some of them are really good, and would have been tried already if we didn't have such a polarized government. But he's getting so much flak from the far-left unions who have sway over the far-left legislators, that he might not get them passed.

So Californians who care about reform need to focus their efforts, not on the symptoms of the problem, but the cause. We need to fix redistricting and kill gerrymandering. If Schwarzeneggar can get this one goal accomplished, it will do more good for the future of California than any number of other reforms. Like the gift that keeps on giving, it would be the reform that keeps on reforming.


At 10:14 PM, Blogger Saheli said...

Hmm, I have to read more about the bill. I am innately suspicious of its premises because I know natural geographic units are not always obvious.

However, I agree that real-election-is-the-primary concept is kind of sad. It's much much worse in New York! I think the real problem is that a) the majority of voters don't pay attention to the their party primaries and b) the majority of voters don't pay attention to the work of the legislature and state politics in general. That, I think, is actually better in the east coast. New Yorkers at least seem to have a much better sense of who their State Assembly and Senate representaties are, and what they are upto, and as a result the representatives are much more in line with their geographic constituencies.

At 8:32 PM, Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

I agree wholeheartedly. If only we can also get this to apply to our national House of Representative seats, we're in even better shape.

Gerrymandering is just one manner of incumbent protection. Despite all the talk about the wonderful bipartisan "campaign finance reform", it was simply another manner of incumbent protection. In between finding ways to reduce our liberty, the other main goal of Congress is to shore up their own job security.

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Thanks for your comments, Saheli and Brad.

BTW, I'm going to be reading a slightly altered version of this post for the Perspectives series on KQED public radio in the near future. If you live in the SF Bay or Sacramento area, keep an ear out!

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

I quoted you in my post here on this issue. Take a look if you get a chance.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Great post Brad. I know re-districting reform has been pushed in California elections unsuccessfully before. But I'm REALLY hopeful about it this time. I'm going to volunteer to campaign for it. I think the Governor's budget and school reform initiatives are important, too. But I think campaigners should "focus like a laser", as Gray Davis would say, on the re-districting initiative. It's easy for the average voter to miss the importance of such a reform, because the damage being done to government is horrible but subtle. So it's going to take a lot of troops getting out there and explaining it to people: especially to people who don't generally like initiatives. They need to know that this initiative might actually obviate future initiatives. Although, I guess we shouldn't use the word "obviate" too much.


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