Take redistricting away from the politicians

Kudos to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for forcing the issue of
redistricting reform.
In his state of the state address in January, Schwarzenegger
threw down the gauntlet: He told the state legislature to enact
redistricting reform or he’d take the issue to the voters.
Kudos to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for forcing the issue of redistricting reform.

In his state of the state address in January, Schwarzenegger threw down the gauntlet: He told the state legislature to enact redistricting reform or he’d take the issue to the voters.

Surprising no one, the legislature has done exactly nothing on this crucial issue. They like the current system, which nearly guarantees incumbents will be re-elected and re-elected until term limits kick in or they run for a different position. And regardless of who it is, the current system nearly guarantees that the seat will remain in the same political party’s control. Can you say polarization?

To be fair, voters share a large portion of the blame for the current mess. If more eligible citizens voted, and if they held incumbents accountable every once in a while, we wouldn’t have the situation in which state Assembly and Senate and U.S. Congressional seats rarely turn over.

But that’s not the only problem. After every census, the California legislature makes back-room political deals to redraw the districts for the state Assembly, state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to protect the political parties’ control of the seats they currently hold, and ensure that any incumbent who wants to be re-elected will be re-elected.

Instead, Schwarzenegger wants to use a panel of retired judges to draw legislative district boundaries. Twelve states currently use a similar plan to draw state legislative boundaries; five use the system for U.S. Congressional districts.

Now that the legislature has missed the governor’s March 1 deadline to pass redistricting reform, he’s taking the problem to the people. He’s bundled redistricting reform with three other initiatives and is asking voters to sign petitions so he can hold a special election in November. He needs 600,000 on each initiative’s petition by mid April. That’s a difficult but not impossible task.

Of greater concern to some is the $50 to $70 million price tag attached to the special election.

But fixing the redistricting mess in California is easily worth that price. Fixing the political backscratching, more-of-the-same attitudes in Congress and the state legislature is a bargain at twice the price.

That the special election might bring much-needed reform in three other areas (state spending, public employee pensions and teacher merit pay) just sweetens the deal. It’s time to take political self-interest out of the equation when legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years. The only way to do that is to take the job away from the politicians.

If you’re asked to sign a petition to put redistricting reform on the ballot this November, we urge you to sign it. And when the special election is held, we urge you to vote yes to change the way California draws its legislative districts.

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