Opinion Piece at California Progress Report Supports Proposition 11

In an opinion piece on the website California Progress Report, Peter Stahl whole-heartedly endorses Proposition 11. He does an excellent job of explaining the ramifications and consequences of the current system of redistricting, particularly the influence on the level partisanship it has.

The intense partisanship that the Governor complains about stems directly from non-competitive legislative districts. These districts are so heavily tilted toward one party or the other that they promote the election of strongly partisan representatives. Legislators from such districts tend to avoid working with the other party because it can leave them vulnerable to charges of party disloyalty in their home district primaries. The result is that legislators are predisposed toward obstinacy and against compromise.
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Our current districts are fantastically contorted gerrymanders designed to maximize the number of safe Democratic and, consequently, also safe Republican districts. Consider, for example, the psychedelic, fractal-patterned State Senate districts 16 and 18. These districts’ interlocking spiral arms gently tease apart the Democratic and Republican neighborhoods of Bakersfield, Visalia, and other San Joaquin Valley cities. Even though the districts cover the same part of the state, District 16 has a 45,000-voter Democratic advantage and District 18 a 60,000-voter Republican advantage. (Each district has roughly 300,000 registered voters.)

The November general election means nothing in such districts. The majority-party candidate is assured of victory. Instead, what’s important is the primary contest. And how do you win a partisan primary? By appealing to activist and loyalist elements within your party–by retreating to your “ideological corner,” to use Arnold’s phrase. So candidates in primaries play up their party credentials, and loudly proclaim they will never compromise core party values like taxes or the environment. Typically, moderates lose these primaries to hardliners. The nominees are then rubber-stamped in November, even if there’s significant independent and crossover vote for moderate minority-party nominees, because the district registration is so heavily tilted. The result is a Legislature (and Congress) full of extreme partisans, responsive only to their own parties, with no incentive to compromise or back down from obstructionist tactics.

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