Prop 77: How To Create Competition?

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From the beginning of 2005 until now, there has been one underlying theme in the effort to wrestle political map drawing powers away from the Legislature: redistricting reform will lead to more competitive political races.

But will it?

On this afternoon's newsmagazine version of The California Report, we take an in-depth look at the issue of electoral competitiveness, and how Proposition 77 may-- or may not-- make it a reality.

[You can find statewide listings for the program here]

Although the language of the initiative doesn't actually list "competition" as one of the criteria for the retired judges who would draw new maps, the idea has been a key theme of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign events... as he often mentions that none of the 153 congressional and legislative seats up for grabs in 2004 changed party.

But competitiveness is not easy to define. Some academics I spoke with pointed to the fact that competition is a frequent factor in races without an incumbent, because it's the visibility and financial resources of incumbents that can make even a competitive district's election a foregone conclusion. Some also suggest that even if an incumbent does beats back a challenger, if the race is close... then wasn't it also, by definition, competitive?

For me, the most interesting... and exhausting... part of my reporting was a trip to the Institute for Governmental Studies at UC-Berkeley, the official repository of the state's redistricting data. As you'll hear in the report, I spent about 90 minutes trying my own hand at drawing competitive districts in the Los Angeles area. And I found that, in many cases, the only way to balance the D's with the R's was to draw what some call "bacon strip" districts... ones that stretched from region to region. That, by the way, would conflict with Prop 77's requirement that the judges should strive to draw districts that are compact, and ones that split cities and counties as rarely as possible.

In the end, just about every analysis seems to show that new political maps will create some level of new competition. But will it be as much competition as the "Yes on 77" folks and the governor are selling? Most academics... and redistricting veterans... said that's doubtful.

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About John Myers

John Myers is Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED Public Radio and "The California Report," heard daily on 23 public radio stations across the Golden State.

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