Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Study shows remap reform won't solve partisan bickering

SACRAMENTO — If you want a less-polarized Legislature — if you want lawmakers who can actually compromise to get things done, such as agreeing on a budget — redistricting reform is not the answer.

That's the finding of a report released Tuesday night by the Public Policy Institute of California, throwing into doubt the campaign message of Proposition 11, which would take the power to draw political boundaries away from lawmakers and hand it to a 14-member commission. Proponents have argued that the measure, which is on the Nov. 4 ballot, would rid Sacramento of the partisan bickering by setting up districts more responsive to voters.

"If the ultimate goal of redistricting reform is to increase bipartisanship in Sacramento, other avenues may prove more fruitful," wrote Eric McGhee, the author of the report and research fellow at PPIC. "Campaign finance reform, open primaries, and the mobilization of complacent middle-of-the-road voters would probably be more effective."

The real effect of redistricting reform, the report said, would be to increase the number of competitive districts, which could lead to a change in the Legislature's party balance.

"But this would not increase moderation in the Legislature," McGhee wrote, "so much as shift the influence from one polarized party to the other."

McGhee said that the Legislature has been no more polarized after the controversial 2001 redistricting — in which Advertisementlawmakers were criticized for drawing up districts designed to protect their seats — than before.

Opponents of Proposition 11 seized on the report to assail the measure as a partisan power grab by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican donors who are largely financing the effort. Schwarzenegger has contributed $2.4 million to California Voters First, one of two Proposition 11 accounts, from his general campaign account, California Dream Team.

"It's pretty clear the report strips away the facade of Proposition 11," said Paul Hefner, spokesman for Citizens for Accountability, No on 11. "It tells the truth that the governor and special interests are trying to avoid. Redistricting reform is no solution to partisan gridlock.

What they're really doing is creating a smoke screen covering their political agenda with the patina of reform."

In the 1990s, when political boundaries were drawn by the state Supreme Court, seven of 10 budgets were late, Hefner said.

Just a day before the report was released, reform advocates asserted that the budget stalemate — now 71 days late — illustrated the need to take redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers.

"Partisan debate is important — that's not the problem," said Jeannine English, president of AARP, a sponsor of Proposition 11. "Electing politicians that are unaccountable to voters is the issue. Proposition 11 is an important step to change the status quo."

Government reform groups such as AARP, Common Cause of California and League of Women Voters have been the nonpartisan force behind the ballot drive, which has also gained the endorsement — if not the financial help — from some Democrats such as former Gov. Gray Davis. But, the state Democratic Party, as well as several large labor groups, are opposing it.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which this week announced it will start a recall campaign against Schwarzenegger, has donated $250,000 to the No on 11 campaign, on top of $602,000 it gave to the Leadership California account of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, who is leading the No on 11 campaign.

Backers of the ballot measure argue that lawmakers have abused their power by drawing district lines that protect themselves, and, in the 2001 redistricting, drew boundaries that were so lopsided that lawmakers didn't have to risk losing their seats. That, they say, is why moderate voices are silenced and partisanship is so rancorous.

But redistricting isn't the main cause, McGhee wrote.

Partisanship is a national trend: both houses of Congress have been increasingly partisan since the early 1990s, Voters also are becoming more polarized, and activists and single-issue interest groups are gaining influence in party affairs by pouring ever-increasing dollars into legislative races.

"Before we expect redistricting reform to produce a more moderate Legislature," McGhee wrote, "we need to determine whether redistricting has made it a partisan one in the first place."

  • Copyright reform bill appears to be in limbo
  • Shift workers have higher levels of dissatisfaction: report
  • Governor enlists former foe for redistricting reform
  • Democratic leaders accused of pressuring supporters of redistricting measure
  • Remap proposal worries civil rights groups