Thursday, December 10, 2009
I’m not exaggerating. Did you ever think that you could exercise such power that you and 13 other Californians would be responsible for saving democracy in our state? In this case, democracy means that voters actually choose their legislators rather than their legislators choosing their voters. It also means that the results of elections are not preordained, and that elected legislators will be representative of the people of the state.
That’s not the way the business of the people has been conducted in California in recent history. And that’s largely due to the rules for carving up the state into legislative and congressional districts every 10 years. The U.S. Census measures changes as the population shifts, with some districts losing people and other gaining them. The result is that districts need to be re-drawn, theoretically to try to maintain the principle of equal representation as population changes.
In California, that redistricting has been conducted by the very people who stand to win or lose their elections when their districts pick up or lose some communities and neighborhoods because of the re-drawn legislative map. They are the state’s legislators. So the temptation for both incumbents and for political parties is to gerrymander and create strange-looking pseudo pods, rather than neat squares into which they tuck their constituents. Unfortunately, the politicians in power win, but the people lose.
The argument is that California’s system of redistricting produces polarized legislators locked into conservative and liberal positions, and that this is one of the major causes of legislative gridlock. That’s why what’s come out of Sacramento during the last several, difficult years has not helped California back to its golden state status. Workable ideas have been squashed by a rigid legislature.
Now here’s your grand, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Starting next week, you can apply to be one of 14 people who will redistrict California’s legislative districts after the 2010 census is completed. No longer will legislators be drawing safe districts for themselves and their parties. In fact, if you are politically connected, don’t bother applying. This job is for 14 citizens who understand how important redistricting is to enhance or diminish the political power of individual communities and who are committed to fairly balance the interests of California’s diverse population. And aside from the excitement you’ll get from shaping your state’s future, you’ll get paid!
For those who complain about California’s long list of ballot measures during each election cycle, they can now celebrate at least one of those initiatives. November 2008’s Proposition 11 narrowly passed, but still managed to open the door to better government by creating California’s Citizen Redistricting Commission. It will be a small group of 5 Republicans, 5 Democrats, and 4 independents and it’s about to start recruiting members. Consider the possibilities!