This is the last part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post recommends a “no” vote on Proposition 27, which switches the power of state-level redistricting from a citizen’s committee to the legislature.
Gerrymandering at the State Level
Compared to the House of Representatives, few people pay attention to state-level legislatures. Most elected state officials are very obscure figures; indeed, in some lesser populated states being a state legislator constitutes only a part-time job. Even the most politically active individuals would not recognize the State Assembly Speaker (Assemblyman John Perez) or State Senate Majority Leader (Senator Dean Florez) if they were to walk down the street.
The attention people pay to gerrymandering is also much more focused on the federal level. Opponents of the practice, for instance, almost always use federal districts as examples of badly drawn districts.
Yet gerrymandering also exists on the state level. Both California’s State Assembly and State Senate are gerrymandered just as much as its congressional seats. A map of the State Assembly’s districts can be found here; a map of the State Senate’s districts can be found here.
Analyzing all the strangely drawn districts in California would probably take dozens of pages. State Assembly District 66, for instance, goes from Riverside and meanders along exurbs and unpopulated portions of San Diego County.
Another example of a gerrymandered district is State Senate district 14:
District 14 is an attempt by Democrats to pack Central Valley’s Republicans into one state district; it is similar to congressional district 19 (whether this attempt worked is another story; the Democratic gerrymander of California has turned out to actually benefit Republicans).
To do this, Democrats combined conservative Central Valley farmland with the conservative parts of the cities of Modesto and Fresno. This involved splitting the two cities.
Here is Modesto (the white parts constitute Senate District 14):
Obviously, this district was not drawn with the interests of Modesto and Fresno in mind. A non-gerrymandered drawing would keep a city in one piece. Nor, in all likelihood, would it combine cities with farmland that has relatively little in common.
Until recently, it appeared that California’s districts would continue to be drawn like Senate District 14: with the interests of the politicians above that of the districts themselves. In 2008, however, voters approved Proposition 11 – a proposition which switches control of the redistricting process from the state legislature to a “Citizen’s Redistricting Committee.”
Proposition 27 is an attempt, two years after the passage of Proposition 11, to get rid of the “Citizen’s Redistricting Committee” and hand power back to the state legislature. It is pushed, unsurprisingly, mainly by state legislators.
Almost every single newspaper in California – whatever their partisan orientation – has called for a “no” vote on Proposition 27. It deserves to be defeated for the same reason that Proposition 20 deserves to be approved: having state legislators draw the districts that will elect them is a fundamentally corrupt practice.
In the previous analysis of Proposition 20, I wrote:
Today politicians draw the districts that will elect them. This process is inherently a conflict of interest; politicians will always pay more attention to their own interest than to the interests of the people in the districts. This is not because politicians are evil, but simply because the incentives end up this way. A Citizens Redistricting Committee will take this power away from them. It will put the interest of the people in these districts above the interests of the politicians.
Citizens redistricting committees are not perfect. Iowa, for instance, produces very compact and non-gerrymandered districts using a nonpartisan committee. New Jersey, on the other hand, has a similar committee but produces fairly gerrymandered districts. This is because New Jersey is a much more complicated state than Iowa. California’s districts may end up looking more like New Jersey’s and less like Iowa’s, simply because California is more like New Jersey than Iowa.
Still, this is probably better than what is currently happening, when politicians draw districts with very little regard to the interests of the people inside them. California’s districts may not end up looking picture-perfect under a citizen’s redistricting committee, but at least they will be probably better than the districts under the current system.
These words remain just as true for “no” on Proposition 27 as they do for “yes” on Proposition 20.
The United States remains one of the few countries – perhaps the only country – in which legislative politicians are allowed to select who will vote for and against them. This is one of the cases in which it would do well to follow the example of other countries, such as the United Kingdom or Australia, which set district lines by nonpartisan committees. The exceptional and undemocratic practice of gerrymandering deserves to be ended.
That is why I recommend a “no” vote on Proposition 27.