Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Why George Skelton is Wrong About Partisan Redistricting

In Monday's Los Angeles Times, Sacramento-based political columnist George Skelton's "Capitol Journal" column claims the Democrats have lost a huge opportunity by refusing to go along with non-partisan redistricting in the past:
California Democrats — especially U.S. House candidates — should be poised to clean up in November because of President Bush's bungling, but they're not. And it's their own fault.

They've gerrymandered themselves out of the action.

It's ironic that the political party most opposed to redistricting reform in California is the party that currently could be reaping its benefit.

Conversely, the party that historically has advocated taking redistricting away from the Legislature — the minority GOP — can thank its lucky stars that gerrymandering still prevails.

He goes on to quote Tony Quinn, co-editor of the Target Book who says that if it wasn't for the partisan gerrymander of 2001 negotiated with State Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte Democrats might pick up 3 Congressional seats in the 2006 mid-term elections. Brulte brags "As a partisan warrior, I plead guilty," he says. "Our redistricting was designed to protect the Republican majority in Congress, and it has. I did my job, and I'm proud I did." However, later in the article it is revealed that Brulte, is now an advocate for indepedent commission to handle redistricting. Brulte also admits that it is a conflict of interest for legislators to draw their own districts. So if it was such a bad thing for Republicans to have non-partisan redistricting, why is self-proclaimed "partisan warrior" now in favor of it?

Although I agree that, for Democracy's sake, legislators should not draw their own districts, I disagree (strongly) with Skelton that the Democrats made a mistake in agreeing to the partisan gerrymander of 2001. They cemented control of the state Legislature for the entire decade without having to worry about ever losing majority status. To say that they should have traded that security for the chance of having a larger majority (I don't think even Skelton is claiming a veto-proof majority was achievable) is short-sighted.

Of course, what is best for a partisan majority may not necessarily be best for the people, but since I'm a progressive Democrat, I think that assuring a Democratic majority is good for the (majority of the) people.

This doesn't mean that the people are always right. Clearly, term limits have been an unsuccessful experiment. They have led to less beneficial public policy than more. The hope was that term limits would produce self-abnegating, public-minded individuals to replace the current self-absorbed, money-grubbing career politicians. Can't say I have noticed much of a change in our politicos, have you?

Interestingly, the latest proposals to remove the ability of state legislators to draw their own electoral districts have been coupled with an initiative to modify term limits. Dan Walters thinks that makes it more likely neither policy change will happen.

We'll see--August in an election year is always an exciting time for people interested in policy and politics in California. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this useful article.


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