Voters should draw the line on redistricting

October 05, 2008 11:00 pm

It's called the Voter Information Guide, but it looks more like a high-end catalog offering an array of glitzy, expensive gifts with astronomic pricetags. But at least one offering on the statewide Nov. 4 ballot may be worth every cent.

That's Proposition 11, which would strip lawmakers of the right to create their own legislative districts and give it to an independent, 14-member commission of, believe it or not, ordinary voters. The commission would include Democrats, Republicans (five each) and third-party members or independents (four).

Opponents argue that 11 would confer redistricting responsibilities on people "who are never elected and never accountable." But in the hands of our own duly elected lawmakers, the process has been a joke.

Contested elections have all but disappeared from California's political landscape, as Assembly members and state senators after each census create "safe' districts that insulate all but the openly corrupt and morally dissolute from challenge.

The gerrymandered districts they have created defy imagination. They snake in and around communities and across county lines to scoop up pockets of Democrats or Republicans — depending on whom the district is being tailored.

Bottom line: California lawmakers are picking who will vote for them.

What this has produced is emboldened, largely unaccountable legislators who often reside on the far fringes of their parties' ideologies. Without consequences to face at the polls, Assembly members and senators have been less willing to compromise, and the political give-and-take that often produces progress has often been in short supply.

Want proof? Consider the just-concluded, 85-day California budget standoff, which seemed more like a stonewalling, name-calling playground stare-down than a legislative process.

While our lawmakers preened and postured, anger among the voters mounted, leading many to one conclusion: Throw the bums out.

Sorry. It's not going to happen.

Competitive legislative elections are precious few. Since 2000 only one incumbent, Senator Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, has lost a reelection bid.

Just look at our own legislative seats: Republican incumbents have faced no more than token challenges for well over a decade. Assemblymen George House, Dave Cogdill and Tom Berryhill and Senators Dick Montieth and Cogdill, for instance, have represented Tuolumne County without breaking a campaign sweat.

The truth is that our Assembly and Senate districts are pre-ordained as GOP-safe — among bones thrown to the minority by the state's dominant Democratic Party.

The commission proposed by Proposition 11 would be charged with creating "geographically compact" districts that, whenever possible, do not split recognized communities. Favoring or discriminating against "political incumbents, candidates or parties" would be absolutely forbidden. Public hearings on commission proposals would be required.

Although Proposition 11 would hardly solve all of California's problems and may not be the ideal or ultimate solution, it is a far better than the self-serving system we have now. It deserves your Yes vote.

Not only that, but at a cost of $4 million a decade, it sounds like a bargain.