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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Prop 11, and Some Perspective on Election 2008 and Gerrymandering

The proposition in California that received the most media attention was Proposition 8. Proposition 8 kept the definition of marriage as one man and one woman and it passed narrowly. While that proposition got all the headlines, California also passed a far more significant proposition, in my opinion. That proposition was Proposition 11.

Proposition 11 will dramatically change how we choose legislators and no longer allow them to choose us. Let me explain.

Since the founding of the state in 1850, the California Constitution has charged the legislators with the task of redrawing their district lines every 10 years and right after the U.S. Census is completed.

This was not really a problem until more recently. The process is now the poster child for gerrymandering, which is a practice of controlling the political makeup of the district in which the legislator resides with the goal of making it nearly inevitable for him or her to be re-elected.

Even when term limits are reached, the same political party wins the election. The seat is nearly "guaranteed" for one or the other of the two major political parties.

The net effect is that we are regularly electing the most ideological extremes of both parties to the Legislature. These legislators find it very difficult to work together to solve the real public policy matters for fear of losing the next election. The only thing they seem to work well on is redistricting.

Proposition 11 forces the State Legislature's districts to be drawn by an independent panel rather than the politicians themselves. In California, the people have seen up close the corrossive effect of Gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is a form of redistribution in which electoral district or constituency boundaries are manipulated for electoral advantage. Gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder particular constituents, such as members of a political, racial, linguistic, religious or class group.

The term gerrymandering is derived from Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), the governor of Massachusetts from 1810 to 1812. The term first appeared in the Boston Gazette on March 26, 1812 (see image). In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill into law that redistricted his state to benefit his Democratic-Republican party.

In California, the districts are drawn up in such a way that, for the most part, they benefit those with extreme points of view on each side. As such, the legislature is forced to compromise between far left politicians and far right. As such, the budgetary process has come nearly to a halt.

The concept of Gerrymandering gets little attention in current political coverage, and yet, I believe it is at the root of most of our political problems. Congressional re election rates have traditionally been around 95% of the time. Some of this is is due to name recognition and other benefits of being an incumbent. Most of it is due to Gerrymandering.
Whenever a political party has an opportunity to redraw districts, (usually following a census) they re draw them in their own favor. By extension, what they really do is, more often than not, redraw districts to favor incumbents in general.
Gerrymandering occurs when a party re draws districts so that as many of their folks get elected. They do this by re drawing districts so that people of like mind are kept in the same district. As such, the minimum number of diversity is kept in any district. As such, incumbents are almost always the favorites. The districts have been rigged to make it that way. Incumbents rarely get competition from their own party. The system is rigged so that the opposition is meant to lose. That's because the district is rigged so that the overwhelming number of people agree with the ideology of the incumbent's party.
Gerrymandering leads to extremism, laziness, and most importantly corruption. If a politician feels so safe in re election, that anything can go, anything does go. Almost everything that we get cynical about in politics has its roots in gerrymandering. Most Congressional veterans are hated in general everywhere but in their district. This is no accident. This happens because their district was tailor made for them.
This brings me back to Proposition 11. You may have noticed that politicians would no longer be able to re draw districts in the State Legislature. The California Congressional districts could still be re drawn by the politicians. That's because proponents of Proposition 11 feared that Nancy Pelosi et al would bring in heavy artillery against the Proposition if it also forbade politicians from re drawing Congressional districts and then the Proposition would fail.
Make no mistake. Gerrymandering as at the root of most of our political problems. This problem is perpetuated because the media ignores this corrossive problem. The politicians that rely on it for their nearly unlimited power won't let it go without a fight. With the media, in general, providing them cover, it's likely for the most part it won't go down.


Brian C. said...

I think they should enact that on the federal level... I havn't even heard of this prop till this blog! My state suffers the same problems. We have our representative who will be serving his 19th and 20th year in the house since he won reelection in 2008. Term limits don't always work like you said also.

But the only problem? Who appoints the 'independent panel?' The govenor? Then you run into the same Senator problems when say a republican senator leaves and a democrat govenor selects the most liberal guy he can find. The opposite is also true of course!

mike volpe said...

The panel could be voted on or it could be made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.

I think the larger problem is that the media yawns at this problem. None of this would happen if the media made a stink everytime, like they should, it does happen.

look at any Gerrymandered district and there is no demographic or geographic rhyme or reason for it. So, if someone created a Gerrymandered district and the media pointed that out, that person would become an instant villain.