Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Statewide and Congressional elections might be a lot more exciting if there was more doubt about who was going to win. Gerrymandering has effectively made it a foregone conclusion in many districts which party is going to win in November. A struggle is underway to get back to a situation where elections are actually competitive, and it all centers on three different initiatives about redistricting.
ALISON ST. JOHN (Host): You are listening to These Days in San Diego. I’m Alison St John, in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Statewide and Congressional elections might be a lot more exciting if there was more doubt about who was going to win. Gerrymandering has effectively made it a foregone conclusion in many districts which party will win in November. A struggle is underway to get back to a situation where elections are actually competitive. It all centers on three initiatives about redistricting, one measure that we voters have passed already, and two more that we'll get to vote on again this November. Here with her weekly Political Fix for us is KPBS’ senior political analyst Gloria Penner, host of Editors Roundtable and San Diego Week. Gloria, good to see you.
GLORIA PENNER (KPBS Political Correspondent): Good morning, and it is – I almost called you Maureen but you’re not Maureen, you’re Alison. Okay.
ST JOHN: I’m Alison.
ST JOHN: She'll be back next week, though, never fear. So tell us a little bit about this redistricting issue, sort of put us in the picture. Why is it such an important issue these days?
PENNER: I’m glad you use that word, important, because I really want to say right now to our listeners, I want you to take a deep breath and when you let it out, I don’t want to hear a yawn because, unfortunately, whenever I say redistricting—I’m going to talk about redistricting—people say, oh… But the point is here that ten years ago redistricting was not well covered by the media and basically the voters were ignorant because most of the media ignored redistricting and they gave it minimal coverage. They felt, number one, that it was too legally complicated for most readers to understand and, two, that it was too bogged down with behind the scenes processes. Okay, well, we’re going to fix all that. It is important and the reason is that right now most of the races in California, most of the people who are in state positions, have been decided by the same legislators that carved out the districts. So that means that the chore, usually done by the – always done by the legislature, meaning the majority party, basically decides what the districts are going to look like so that they can maintain their position in California.
ST JOHN: So the last time it happened in 2001, the whole thing was pretty much, what, done in smoky backrooms? Or…?
PENNER: It was, indeed, and with small committee meetings. And the result is what we now have, which is the annual budget standoff. This is where you get the large number of Democrats, the smaller number of Republicans, people absolutely ingrained in their seats and in their positions. The left is pretty far to the left and the right is pretty far to the right, and never the twain shall meet. So it was time for a change. As the critics say, anybody but the legislature should be drawing the districts.
ST JOHN: So, voters had their say back in 2008 and voted Proposition 11 that changed the whole way that redistricting was going to happen.
PENNER: That’s true.
ST JOHN: Just put us in the picture of what’s happening now, I guess.
PENNER: Well, a very interesting and not very complicated process. I mean, it looks like it. Proposition 11 basically said that the districts that comprise California should not be drawn by the legislature because they have the most to gain and to lose, I guess, by this. It should be done by a citizens’ panel. So the California State Auditors staff, and that’s Elaine Howell, they were charged by Proposition 11 with putting together the Citizens Redistricting Commission, and they have screened more than 31,000 applicants.
ST JOHN: A lot of people wanted to be on that commission, didn’t they?
PENNER: Absolutely. And it is now down to the final interviews of 120 people. Three have dropped out. I believe that’s the latest news, so there are 117. And these are evenly divided, same number of Democrats, same number of Republicans, same number of Independents. And it’s kind of a complicated process when you think about it. What you have is all these people submitted applications and letter of recommendations then this applicant review panel, which came from the Auditor’s office, screened each completed application and they ultimately created this pool of 117 people. Now the pool will be narrowed down to 60 and those 60 will be the most qualified applicants. There will be 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans and 20 that are either Declined-To-State or are registered with another party. And actually if you want to watch the interviews online, you can. The website is www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov and you can watch these people being interviewed. And it’s really very interesting. And then the 60 names will go to the state legislature so they have their say and the leadership can eliminate up to 24 names from that list. And from those that remain, the auditor will randomly—I mean, this is like pulling names out of a hat.
ST JOHN: Uh-huh.
PENNER: She will randomly draw the names of the first 8 commissioners and those 8 commissioners will then select the remaining six to form the 14-member commission, 5 Republicans, 5 Democrats and 4 members that are either Decline-To-State or with another party. All this has to be done by the end of the year.
ST JOHN: So, basically, possibly something that would determine the future balance of power in the state would be literally drawn out of a hat.
ST JOHN: Now, you’ve discovered who from San Diego is still in the running there, which is kind of interesting.
PENNER: That’s right.
ST JOHN: Tell us about that.
PENNER: And when I say still, I mean, the last look I gave at the website, all this information is public so I wasn’t, you know, digging in people’s garbage, I really pulled it out of the website. We have, unbelievably, no Democrats from San Diego County. We do have, from Rancho Santa Fe, a Republican. Her name is Donna Day Beers. She actually was the only one who had a couple of public comments against her application because you can have public comments registered on the website, and she was the only one who had negatives. And they basically were critical of her financial support of Proposition 8. And as far as diversity is concerned, she checked the box that said American Indian or Alaskan native. Her household income is quite high, between $75,000 and $125,000. And there’s another American Indian or Alaskan native who’s made the cut so far and he’s from La Jolla. His name is Michael Briggs. Many of us know the name of Carl Luna. Carl Luna’s a professor of Political Science at…
ST JOHN: Me – Mesa…
PENNER: …Mesa College and he often comes to KPBS to give us his political expertise and he is one of those ‘did not state his party’ individuals. He is white. And he had one very interesting letter of recommendation. He had a couple but one that would be significant to those of us who follow politics and that was from Donna Frye, who said Carl is not one of her constituents but is a political commentator, has a Ph.D. in political science and has a good analytical mind. So he’s got a supporter in Donna Frye. We have a Libertarian, a woman. Her name is Jacquelyn Estrada. She had 3 letters that came from people who worked with her on various projects. And she’s white. And then we have another Republican. He’s a Pacific Islander, and he’s another name we may recognize, Gil Ontai. He used to be with the Planning Commission for the City of San Diego and one of his letters was from the City Planning Director, and he got another one from Neighborhood House. So he, I believe—I didn’t write it down—but I seem recall that he is a Republican as well.
ST JOHN: So these people are not necessarily on the commission but they’re in the running.
PENNER: They’re in the running. They’re – One of the 60 that’s left from…
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.
PENNER: …31,000 people so may – they made the cut. We also have somebody who’s half-and-half. He says he’s half-Asian, half-white. His name is Ryan Stuck, and he is also Declined-To-State a party. And then finally we have somebody who founded the Hispanic Internal Revenue Service. Her name is Cecilia White, and she lists herself as Hispanic or Latino and a Republican. So there we are, no Democrats, large diversity from San Diego, and it’s going to be fascinating to see whether any of these make the final cut.
ST JOHN: Interesting. So when they are eventually chosen, these people will be deciding the districts for the statewide office.
ST JOHN: But since that has passed, that initiative passed, another initiative is facing us in November, right, Gloria?
PENNER: We – Yes.
ST JOHN: Can you tell us, which would extend the whole idea of redistricting.
PENNER: We actually have two initiatives…
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.
PENNER: …that the people are going to be voting on and they really need to know about that.
ST JOHN: You want to take them both at the same time?
PENNER: I will.
ST JOHN: Go right ahead.
PENNER: I’ll take them both so that we kind of get them clear because I keep getting the numbers mixed up.
ST JOHN: Okay.
PENNER: There’s Proposition 20, two-zero. And that would say not only is this commission going to be responsible for carving out the state districts but also let’s add the Congressional districts to it. Right now, Congressional districts would not be carved out by this commission, would continue to be carved out the way it is now, by the state legislature. And so there is a push for Proposition 20, saying let’s do the whole ball of wax, let’s do both the state and Congress and put it in the hands of the people.
ST JOHN: So give us an idea. Who is it that wants it to go back to the way it was before?
PENNER: Oh, well, I bet you could guess very quickly. That it’s the people who have the most to lose, the state legislature.
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm. Now what are their arguments?
PENNER: Oh, well, their arguments are that this takes it out of the hands of the people. This is a commission that is selected by a process but it is the elected official who represents the people. And so when you take the redistricting out of the hands of elected officials, you basically are removing the constituent, the voter, from the whole process.
ST JOHN: Okay. And in terms of the money, is there a lot of money being thrown into these two initiatives? Because a lot is at stake.
PENNER: There is a lot that is at stake. In fact, in one regard, we have Charlie Munger, who is supporting one of the initiatives and he – the name may be familiar for people who are fans of Warren Buffet because this is the son of Warren Buffet’s financial advisor.
ST JOHN: Hmm…
PENNER: And so, yes, he is throwing money and he’s a supporter of it as well.
ST JOHN: Of which one now? Just so we don’t get confused.
PENNER: He’s a supporter of the Congressional one.
ST JOHN: The one to expand it…
ST JOHN: …so that it takes it out of the hands of the legislature.
PENNER: Right. I guess I should talk about Proposition 27 now.
ST JOHN: Okay.
PENNER: Proposition 27 would eliminate the Citizens Redistricting Commission entirely. It would say let’s put it back the way it was. Let’s forget all about what we did in 2008 when we created Proposition 11. And put it right back in the hands of the legislature. So at this point, what we have is Proposition 20, which would expand it, Proposition 27, which would eliminate it and, meanwhile, the commission is being developed. So it’s a very vibrant time. I mean, this is a time when history really could be made in California so I hope that everybody is thoroughly aware of what’s going on with this.
ST JOHN: Now do you have a sense of any kind of partisan breakdown in terms of who is supporting 20 and 27? In other words, who wants to expand the Proposition 11 that the voters have already voted for and who wants to go back to the old system?
PENNER: Well, I don’t think it’s any surprise that, let’s say, an official proponent of Proposition 27, which would eliminate the commission, is a professor at UCLA. He’s former chairman of the California Fair Politicals Commission – Practices Commission. And it’s interesting because his name is on the application for the initiative but this is what he says, he says that the real sponsors to put it back in the hands of the legislature are Democratic members of the U.S. Congress led by Howard Berman, a pretty famous legislative name in California, and his brother Michael Berman, who is a consultant for Democrats on redistricting issues. So it sounds as though, you know, you have some pretty powerful Democrats that are involved in this, as is Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi also would like to see it back the way it is. You know, she has a lot to lose here, especially if it goes to add congressional seats as well.
ST JOHN: Umm.
PENNER: Because if there’s a shift and if Congress happens to fall into the hands of the Republicans, guess who would lose her position as Speaker of the House? Nancy Pelosi.
ST JOHN: So the voters of San Diego have the issue back on their plate again to make a decision and they can either decide to expand or abolish, really, the decision that they made in 2001. But in the meantime, this commission that is being selected right now we’ll know by when who’s going to be on it? And what will they do once they’re selected?
PENNER: Well, they have to absolutely decide by December 31st. I mean, the review committee and the whole process has to be over by December 31st. But I think we’re going to learn much more in October as to who still remains. What would happen is on January first, they go to work. They have nine months to go ahead and select the districts, carve them out, and they get paid $300 a day for nine months for what is basically more than full time work. They have to be somewhat qualified. I mean, you have to know something about computers. You have to have some analytical skills. You have to be able to work and play well with others because there are going to be 14 of them all sitting together maybe day and night for nine months.
ST JOHN: Well, Gloria, thank you so much. It’s going to be interesting to see which of those San Diego names make it in the final tally.
PENNER: We’re going to watch it.
ST JOHN: Okay. Thank you so much.
PENNER: You’re welcome.
ST JOHN: That’s KPBS’ senior political analyst Gloria Penner, host of Editors Roundtable and San Diego Week with her weekly Political Fix here on These Days. Stay with us. Coming up after the break, Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers.