Â A recent opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee by Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters, vociferously argues for the passage of Proposition 11. He particularly takes issue with what he believes are the wrong incentives for legislators and voters provided by safe districts.
A guaranteed outcome in November that protects the incumbent party means the winning legislator has actually been chosen in the primary. Primary voters, substantially lower in number, are highly motivated and more devoted to their party ideology. They elect the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans.
Moderate voters, the 20 percent with no party affiliation, and those who belong to a party but are more attracted to the merits of a candidate rather than their political affiliation, are either left out of the primary election or have no choice in the general election.
As a result, moderate, centrist politicians have become an endangered species. But the center is often where political solutions to tough problems can be found and where a large proportion of the voters actually reside. This year’s budget deadlock, the longest in California history, is a stark example of why redistricting reform is necessary. Passing a complex budget with a two-thirds majority vote requires thoughtful compromise. But the vast majority of our state legislators are elected from safe, partisan districts, with little chance an opponent from the opposite party could actually defeat them. With no threat from the opposite party there is little incentive to compromise with them.
Even worse, there is a strong incentive not to find common ground. The real threat to an incumbent in a safe district is a primary election challenge from an opponent in the same party. An individual legislator who decides to compromise will have to fight for his or her political life in the next election, but the attack will come from a more partisan member of their own party, not the opposition party. Toeing the party line is the safer course.