California has a long history of legislators and governors using redistricting to promote their personal political or party’s interests. And, since the context of this activity is after all politics, some say this behavior goes with the territory.
However, as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping becomes a standard tool in redistricting efforts nationwide, we are seeing an ever-increasing number of districts rendered predictably and perennially noncompetitive for one or the other of the two major political parties.
In the 2001 redistricting process, Democrats and Republicans in the legislature created safe seats for every incumbent, and in the 2002 election, not one of 50 general election House challengers in California won even 40% of the vote. In the 2004 election, not a single legislative or congressional seat changed party affiliation.
There is a growing consensus that the result of this dramatic loss of political competition at election time is contributing significantly to the erosion of public confidence in government, among other negative consequences that directly or indirectly constrain government’s ability to respond to the public that elects it. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 69% of adults feel the current redistricting process is in need of change (survey conducted between October 16-23, 2005).
With the high numbers of foreclosures these days, the redistricting process is even more important.
Supporters of redistricting reform are generally motivated by an interest in 1) assigning the power of redistricting to an independent entity other than the legislature, which is understood to have a conflict of interest in this activity; 2) mandating that this independent entity follow specific criteria in drawing district lines to assure fair representation; and 3) increasing transparency in the process to strengthen public confidence in state governance.
Since the November 8, 2005 Special Election, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez all have affirmed their commitment to changing the way Congressional and Legislative districts are drawn in California. Senator Perata and Speaker Nuñez also have committed to putting a redistricting initiative that sets up an independent commission for drawing district lines on a future ballot.
Supporters of legislative action have agreed on a set of principles for reform in early January, and are working with state Senators Alan Lowenthal and Roy Ashburn on amendments to SCA 3, which passed out of the Senate Elections Committee on March 15, 2006.
At this point, the main undecided issues on redistricting reform as outlined in SCA 3 are the composition of the independent commission, and who will pick the commissioners. Several options are being considered but consensus on this point has not yet emerged.
In order for Redistricting Reform to be on the November 2006 Ballot, legislative language needs to be approved by both houses and the appointed conference committee by late July 2006 (this legislation requires a 2/3 vote but does not require the Governor’s signature)
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