In his Sunday column John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle remarked that “against all odds, the Bay Area is looking at the possibility of two extremely competitive primaries against incumbents next June,” referring to former state Sen. Jackie Speier taking on Rep. Tom Lantos and Assemblyman Mark Leno (and possibly former Assemblymember Joe Nation) taking on state Sen. Carole Migden. As Diaz says:
Once someone arrives in Congress or the California Legislature, he or she assumes “it’s my seat” until he or she gets termed out, retires or decides to run for higher office. Very few worry about losing a general election, especially with district boundaries crafted by politicians to protect politicians.
Steven Maviglio of the California Majority Report says Diaz’ article gave him “a hearty chuckle” because while Diaz complains about elected officals “dragging their feet on redistricting and election reform” Diaz’ column is about “two hotly-contested Democratic primaries,” and thus “the system we have in place is working in the Bay Area.”
Maviglio laments, “Diaz constantly moans in his editorials about how redistricting is going to be the be-all and end-all that will change California politics.” He goes on to say of Diaz:
Perhaps he’ll realize soon that it’s the advantages of incumbency and the lack of public financing that is what makes most election challenges uneven — not redistricting. And while we certainly need to prevent lawmakers from drawing their own districts, real reform only will happen when we change the way campaigns are financed.
Campaign finance reform is another ball of wax, but it should be quite apparent to everyone at this point in time that campaign finance reforms can cause more problems than they solve, or, at least, reforming campaigns through regulating campaign finances is not the “be-all and end-all that will change California politics” any more than redistricting reform is.
Says Maviglio, “[t]he Bay Area is solid Democratic; no possible map redrawing is going to change that.” Of course, as Maviglio knows, there are several other demographic factors other than party affiliation that help determine what sort of lawmaker within a given party will get electedâ€”for instance, income and/or race. And as Dan Weintraub put it recently, redistricting today “reduces the incentive for the parties to field candidates who can reach out to independent voters and the opposing party.” Gerrymandered districts increase the likelihood that elections are actually won in primary battles between the extreme elements in either party.
If the Bay area is simply “solid Democratic” and that’s all there is to it no matter how one draws the lines, why, pray tell, did lawmakers bother to change AD 18 in 1991 from this compact district to this horseshoe in 2001? Or why did AD 21 change from this compact district in 1991 to this barbell in 2001? Why did SD 9 change from this compact district in 1991 to this mishapen superhero mask in 2001? Why did CD 10 change from this compact district in 1991 to this Rorschach Test in 2001?
The only thing I see worth a chuckle here is Maviglio’s tortured logic. Why would the fact that there might be two close Democratic primaries in the Bay area be proof that Diaz is wrong about redistricting reform? The district that a lawmaker represents is prior in importance to the rules and regulations for campaign finances or the perks of incumbency. A lawmaker’s district is the framework within which such perks and regulations operate. A lawmaker’s district determines which sort of lawmaker will get elected and use such perks and raise such finances within whatever set of regulations you come up with. What sort of finances you raise and how you raise them as well as how you use your incumbent perks and how much they matter depends on who the elected official is and who their audience is. To a significant degree, redistricting controls both those things.
The fact that there may be two close primaries in the Bay area does not show that the system is working, and I think Maviglio’s boss would agree: “The current system is indefensible. Legislators should not cherry-pick their votes.” (Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, February 1, 2007)