Redistricting Reform Update

The following article is from our Fall, 2007 newsletter:

Each year politicians promise to change the way California redistricts, and each year they fail to deliver.

California and most other states let the legislature draw districts, essentially allowing politicians to decide who their voters are rather than letting the voters decide who they want to support. This is a clear conflict of interest, and for years politicians on both side of the aisle have agreed that change is necessary. The history of this debate, though, is a story of unfulfilled promise.

The current debate centers on a 2005 initiative, Proposition 77. Although there was support for general reform, the initiative’s specific language posed a number of political problems. The leaders of the legislature opposed the initiative and promised instead to propose a better solution that would go through the legislature. Senate Constitutional Amendment 3 (SCA 3) was passed in the Senate at the end of last year’s session; however, it never was voted on in the Assembly. Nonetheless, after the session ended, negotiations continued on new legislation and possible initiatives.

At the start of the 2007 session, the Senate tried again. In June, they handed the Assembly two bills, one by Senator Lowenthal and the other by Senator Ashburn, each promising substantive reform. Thus, the Assembly had multiple options and the rest of the session to resolve the redistricting issue.

Ten months later, the Assembly and its leader have yet to take much action on these bills. The Governor had previously stated that he would not support a term limits reform without redistricting reform also on the ballot.

The Governor also hinted about calling a special session for the purpose of discussing possible redistricting reforms. Senate Leader Pro Tem Perata, however, stated that he would refuse to address the issue because, according to him, “There is no urgency in redistricting.”

On October 23rd a coalition of reform groups introduced the “Voters FIRST Act” as an initiative to reform the redistricting process. The proposal would create a 14-member independent commission to redistrict the state after the next census. The commission would be made up of citizens who had been pre-screened for conflicts of interest and chosen randomly after legislative input. The proponents now must collect about one million signatures to put it on the November 2008 ballot.

There is still the possibility that a measure could go on the February ballot or one of the two others (June and November) next year. If there is a proposal that is put before the voters, the Rose Institute will be ready to act.

The Rose Institute Redistricting team has provided valuable research and expert counsel regarding possible language to the various reform bill and initiative authors. We will continue to follow new developments while playing an important advisory role. In 2007, redistricting reform again came close to passage, but has once more fallen through.

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