Courtesy: California Voter Foundation
You vote in one state Assembly District—but your neighbor votes in another. Ever wonder why?
Political Analyst Tony Quinn is sitting at his dining room table with a large binder filled with maps of the State Assembly, Senate and Congressional districts.
He stops at a map that has what looks like a long blue snake along the bottom of the page. It’s actually a Congressional District. Quinn explains it was drawn by lawmakers to create a so-called “safe seat” for a Democrat.
Quinn moves on to a map of state Senate District 15. He describes how it starts in the South San Jose area—then runs through the mountains ending up around Santa Maria.
“Santa Maria and Lompoc are hundreds of miles away from San Jose. They have nothing in common. And yet for no reason at all other than a need to make a safely Republican seat these two areas happen to be in the same Senate district.”
See the trend here? Every ten years after the census is taken, state lawmakers draw new political district lines for the state Senate, Assembly, Board of Equalization and the U.S. House of Representatives. The current process allows lawmakers to create safe seats—protecting incumbent lawmakers and the parties. Just after signing the record late state budget Governor Schwarzenegger railed against what he called a broken system.
“And it is three months late because both of the parties stayed in their ideological corners and refused to come out. That is why the budget took so long. And that is why we don’t have health care reform yet. And that is why we also don’t have a long-term water plan yet. ”
Both Tony Quinn and Governor Schwarzenegger—along with groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters support Prop 11. The measure would take away lawmakers’ power to draw district lines for state seats and create a fourteen member commission to do the job. The measure spells out some guidelines for them. For example, they can’t draw districts to favor or discriminate against candidates or parties. Critics say Prop 11 won’t fix the problem. Paul Hefner is with the No on 11 campaign. He says only a bureaucrat could love the process to select commissioners.
“You know a state like California we’ve got 37 million people, 58 counties and Prop 11 says just fourteen folks chosen through this bizarre Byzantine process would make decisions for everybody.”
That process has several steps— to end up with five Democrats, five G.O.P members and four from other parties that could include independents. Hefner calls it a Republican power grab.
“Even though Republicans don’t make up a substantial share of the voters they get automatically five seats on the Redistricting commission. Why would you automatically tilt it that way in their favor?”
The measure’s opponents include the state Democratic Party, the powerful prison guards union, and the current head of the State Senate. But supporters like Tony Quinn say if Prop 11 is approved most voters really won’t see huge changes.
“Much of the state is self-segregated into Republican and Democratic areas so you’d still have a majority of safe seats. But you would not have these weird looking maps.”
And opponents say if Prop 11 is approved it will end up in a lawsuit. That will follow a rich tradition in California of sending redistricting issues to court.