Proposition 77: Locally Split Along Partisan Lines

Proponents of the measure want legislative districts drawn by
retired judges
Gilroy – Local opinion about a ballot measure that would change the way electoral districts are drawn is split along partisan lines. Republicans support it. Democrats, who control the redistricting process, are firmly against.

Currently, political districts are drawn by the party in control of the state legislature. Proposition 77 would hand the job to a bi-partisan panel of five judges. The measure is one of the key elements of the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “year of reform” package that inspired the Nov. 8 special election.

Simón Salinas, a Democrat from Salinas who represents Gilroy in the Assembly, has characterized the entire special election as a waste of money. Tuesday, he worried that many of the controversial measures on the ballot will end up in court and said that judges are not likely to reflect the face of California.

“When all is said and done, if this ends up in litigation, the money we spent on this will be naught,” Salinas said. “I don’t think the pool of retired judges will reflect the makeup of California. I think most retired judges will be white males.

Salinas said he does see the value of changing the system, but believes it’s best to wait until after the 2010 census so whoever is drawing the districts has a better sense of the state’s demographics.

Proponents of the measure say the change is needed immediately to level the playing field for both parties. Last year incumbents retained all of the 153 Assembly, Senate and congressional seats up for grabs in the state.

Many attribute that to the redistricting that took place after the 2000 census that turned legislative maps of California that had resembled child’s puzzles into works of Abstract Expressionism.

Salinas’ district stretches from Milpitas to the southern edge of Monterey County but doesn’t include Morgan Hill or San Martin, which are represented by John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. The 30 minute drive from Hollister to Morgan Hill passes through four congressional districts, and rookie State Senator Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, represents a district that ranges from Santa Maria to Los Gatos, bypassing Gilroy and San Martin, but including Morgan Hill.

California reassesses its 173 legislative and congressional districts after every census, redrawing boundaries and shifting representatives’ areas according to population changes nationwide. A state Senate committee collects public opinion and draws the lines, then presents the new maps to the Legislature for approval. Salinas voted for the current districts.

The measure would hand the job to a bi-partisan panel of five judges. The judges would be selected from a list of 25 candidates put forth by the California Judicial Council, an organization that vets judicial applicants and grades members of the bench. The two highest-ranking members of each party will have the right to strike one name each from the list. The clerk of the assembly will then pick a panel comprising two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent.

To be eligible, a retired judge must not have been a political appointee, not have recently changed party registration and must promise not to run for office for a still undetermined amount of time. Where possible, the districts will be “nested,” with each Senate district overlapping two Assembly districts. Maldonado’s district currently spans seven, but still doesn’t match the congressional district of Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps, who represents a swath of land that reaches 200 miles from Monterey County all the way to Oxnard and is rarely more than five miles wide.

Republican Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage said Monday that politics need to be taken out of the process.

“I think the districts as they are now were cut out to benefit the parties and not the people,” Gage said. “It needs to be an independent process and be a non-political assessment.”

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