Dem incumbents’ sneaky ploy
JULY 1, 2010
By LAURA SUCHESKI
California incumbents have started to pony up cash to protect their seats from bipartisan redistricting, hoping to restore the old system that favors safe seats and partisan gerrymandering.
This week, the ballot measure to do away with the Citizens Redistricting Commission was approved by the California Secretary of State’s Office and assigned a number. Proposition 27, the Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act, will face voters on the General Election ballot in November.
If enacted, the initiative would invalidate Proposition 11 and put the power of redistricting back in the hands of elected state representatives, who have been known to gerrymander their seats into security. Proposition 11, enacted by a slim majority in 2008, established a redistricting commission that all but ensures a politically balanced commission of citizen volunteers insulated from partisan politics.
To those interested in good government, Prop. 27 represents a step backwards. “It restores the same formula for gerrymandering that existed before Proposition 11,” said Doug Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.
A voter perusing the submitted paperwork for the proposition might be sympathetic to its findings, however. “Our political leadership has failed us,” proclaims the proposed initiative.
Yet if passed, the law would give the power of redistricting back to the same politicians they accuse of making a mess of state government, with no indication of how the situation would suddenly rectify itself.
“Sacramento has become a full time game of Musical Chairs,” write proponents. “Where incumbent term-limited politicians serve out their maximum term in one office then run for another office where they are a shoo in. This must stop!”
And maybe it should, but if that were the real intent and effect of this proposition, would incumbents be coming out in droves and giving thousands of dollars to the campaign?
Already, incumbent members of Congress Judy Chu (CD 32), Adam Schiff (CD 29), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CD 8), Anna Eshoo (CD 14) , Linda Sanchez (CD 39), Lynn Woolsey (CD 6), Lois Capps (CD 23), Laura Richardson (CD 37), Zoe Lofgren (CD 16), Doris Matsui (CD 5), Howard Berman (CD 28), Mike Honda (CD 15) and Sam Farr (CD 17) have all donated at least $10,000 each. All are Democrats who would benefit from a partisan redistricting done by the Democrat-controlled statehouse.
The commission currently doesn’t have jurisdiction over congressional seats, but that will change if Proposition 20 passes in November. State Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization districts are covered by Prop. 11.
It’s no coincidence that some of the contributors’ seats are among the most vulnerable to the Citizen Redistricting Commission. The districts represented by Pelosi, Eshoo, Woolsey and Watson all have less than the “ideal” population, meaning they will require expansion so that all districts are roughly the same size. With expansion comes the possibility of a change in demographics that could make a safe seat suddenly competitive.
“The underpopulated seats will be the hardest to preserve in current shape,” said Johnson. “They need the most partisan control of the process that they can get. The commission [established by Proposition 11] won’t care about the current political makeup.”
Other contributions are from retiring Congresswoman Diane Watson and her likely replacement, former State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. Incumbents state Sen. Alex Padilla and Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield also contributed thousands.
There are no other contributions from public officials or candidates. Besides Watson and Bass, every political contributor is an incumbent running for reelection.
“It looks highly suspicious,” said Johnson. “The interest of the voters may not be the primary motivation here.”
As Proposition 27 says, “Stacking districts to further disadvantage ordinary people who don’t have access to the special interest contributions that flow to Sacramento incumbents is outrageous.” We only wish the campaign would practice what it preaches.
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