Give Redistricting Back To Legislature?

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And now, a new twist in the still unfolding story over a new citizens commission for drawing political maps in California: an initiative has been filed to scrap the new operation altogether.

On Monday, UCLA professor and former chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission Daniel Lowenstein filed an initiative to abolish the redistricting commission approved by voters under Proposition 11 in 2008.

As I reported last week, state officials are now accepting applications from Californians who have an interest in being one of the 14 commissioners who will draw districts for the Legislature and the Board of Equalization after the 2010 census.

Lowenstein signed a ballot argument against Prop 11, so his opposition is well known. But the initiative he has filed seems to take particular aim at the costs involved (costs which, as I reported recently, appear to be much more than budgeted under Prop 11).

In fact, the proposed ballot measure (which you can read here) is entitled the Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act, and includes the following passage: "A group of unelected commissioners, making up to $1 million a year in cumulative salary, preside over a budget mat cannot be cut even when state revenues are shrinking."

That's a reference to both the salary of future redistricting commissioners ($300 per person, per day of official business) and the overall budget of the commission process. The proposed initiative goes on to say that such spending in these tough times is a "waste."

While the thrust of the new anti-Prop 11 initiative is clearly aimed at piquing the interest of voters distressed by government spending and non-elected official decision making, it also seeks to modify the referendum process in California as it pertains to redistricting. Lowenstein's proposal notes that proposed congressional districts cannot currently be rejected by a vote of the people; this initiative would erase that restriction.

The proposal, while admittedly having a long way to go before ever making it to the statewide ballot, nonetheless seeks to re-open some of the old battles over who should have the power to draw political maps. Its opening declarations make the argument that elected officials are the only people truly accountable to the public, and it does seek to impose some new transparency rules on the Legislature when it comes to redistricting.

Supporters of Prop 11 will no doubt jump to the defense of the process which is now playing out and was approved by a narrow majority of voters in 2008. And remember that there's another redistricting proposal out there, too... a measure to add the power of drawing congressional districts to the workload of the soon-to-exist citizens commission.

Redistricting has long been seen as an arcane topic in which voters care very little. Will we be saying that come this time next year?

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Let It Bleed

    Who’s on first? Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy Abbot!

  • Thomas J. Cares

    I long for the unlikely day when disingenuous advocacy would bear too much shame to be successfully deployed.

    The proponents and prospective backers (financiers) of this initiative care no more about Prop 11’s expense, to the state, than those who advocated for Sen. Denham’s recall actually cared about the fact that he accepted one of two 3k/yr pay raises (they were mad he voted against the 07-08 budget), nor any more than Prop 93’s proponents cared about shortening the longest possible (bicameral) service of future legislators by 2 years (they wanted Assemblymembers to get 12, rather than 6, virtually-guaranteed years, and never need to fight over senate seats to extend their careers).

    How do we know this? Because it would cost them many times more to collect sufficient signatures and fund a campaign for an initiative repealing Prop 11 than it will cost the State to carry out Prop 11. They could save millions by simply giving Prop 11’s cost to the State Treasury.

    How else do we know that Prop 11’s costs are too negligible to genuinely concern any serious person? Tom McClintock – Earth’s most reliable opponent of any type of government spending, whatsoever – endorsed a ‘yes’ vote on Prop 11.

    `You may say that I’m a dreamer…` but would it really be so novel to just tell people, honestly, why you want something? (Denham, for not-so-merited reasons prolonged an impasse that required California to operate, for about 14% of the year, with no budget. Limiting Assemblymembers to 6 years is pretty strict; it prohibits acquisition of substantial experience, and, arguably, over-empowers veteran staff members, and lobbyists. Democratic legislators enjoy getting to draw their own districts, and would like Prop 11 to be repealed, so they may keep that power and possibly use it to disadvantage Republicans, who, in their view, endeavor to ruin California.)

    We wonder why voters are virtually at war with politicians, and feel like they can’t trust anyone; it’s because no one is trustworthy.