January 12, 2005

Right-wing pundit Jill Stewart endorses Ahnold Ziffel's reapportionment initiative, a noble cause indeed, but for the wrong reason. Like so many opponents of gerrymandering, she supports giving the power to redraw districts to retired judges, who, as political appointees of the governor, are as much political animals as the legislators they are replacing. While using retired judges solves, at least theoretically, the problem of partisan gerrymandering (whereby one party redraws the lines to create as many potential districts for their own party as possible), it does nothing to insure against the problem of gerrymandering to protect incumbents, which is what the California State legislature did in 2001. And the current political dynamic in California, in which the Democrats have an overwhelming edge in both houses in Sacramento as well as with the state delegation in Washington, was inherited from the redistricting plan drawn up by a special panel in 1991, which Ms. Stewart views as a Golden Age. Quoth Stewart:
In 1991, Gov. Pete Wilson challenged the latest absurd gerrymander drawn up by Democrats in the state legislature. The courts were asked to step in. Eventually, the California Supreme Court sided with Wilson and temporarily took the power away from the slimy California legislature. The court ordered an independent panel of special masters to create geographically and racially accurate voting districts. In several resulting mixed districts, Democrats and Republicans were forced to compete head-on.

This temporary outbreak of democracy inspired some non-hacks to run between 1992 and 2000. Californians, largely unaware of why they suddenly had choices, elected a wave of moderate to conservative Republicans and Latino Democrats.
But mostly, after 1994, they elected Democrats. The partisan split in the state legislature following the 2000 election, the last election held under the lines drawn by the "special masters", gave the Democrats a 50-30 edge in the State Assembly, and a 26-14 lead in the Senate; under the lines drawn up by the legislature, the split after the 2002 and 2004 elections was 48-32 and 26-14. The current dominance by the Democratic Party in Sacramento is not something imposed on the people by "slimy" politicians, it's something that, apparently, the people want.

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