Dr. Rossum on the Gerrymandering Hall of Shame

The Rose Institute’s “Gerrymandering Hall of Shame” simply provides maps of California Assembly, Senate, and Congressional districts in 1991 and 2001. By looking at these maps, one can easily see how these districts changed because of the bipartisan gerrymandering of the state legislature in 2001. A veteran of over 30 years in Sacramento, Bill Cavala apparently doesn’t like the fact that we provide this information to the public. How providing these facts “is [a] Bogus Effort to Trick the Unknowledgeable Media on Redistricting” is anyone’s guess.

Cavala refers to “The Rose Institute, whose purpose is to provide an academic front to Republican Party efforts to transform the rules of redistricting in a manner that favors Republicans…” Of course, the very page of facts that Cavala calls “bogus” provides plenty of examples of districts gerrymandered by both sides of the political aisle. Even if one was willing to entertain his absurd conspiratorial theories, one wonders how Mr. Cavala accounts for the fact we routinely work with members of both parties as well as Common Cause, League of Women Voters, AARP and other groups from across the political spectrum? More significantly, over the last thirty years the Rose Institute has been proud to serve various underrepresented groups seeking to ensure their voices are heard in the political arena. Cavala provides us with an opportunity to showcase our dedication to this goal by promoting our historical archive. As Doug Johnson commented beneath Cavala’s post, “The Institute has made its computers available to community and civil rights groups working on redistricting, including Californios for Fair Redistricting, the Congress on Racial Equality, and other civil rights groups who were shut out of the redistricting process in California over the years.”

A vital part of our groundbreaking Latino Studies Program (1979 – 1981), the Latino Reapportionment Project worked with virtually every major Latino group in the nation in order to prevent ethnic gerrymanders. Take a look at a small sampling of our historic reports over the decades: The Hispanic Community and California Redistricting, volume 1 and volume 2, the Strategies for Latino Empowerment conference and its corresponding draft statement on strategy, Minorities in the Redistricting Process: Time to Draw the Line, Introduction to Redistricting: Perpectives for Latinos, Douglas Johnson’s Latinos and Redistricting: “Californios for Fair Representation” and California Redistricting in the 1980s—and the list goes on. Never mind the numerous demographic projects we have completed for various minority groups in California, such as our Atlases of African Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Latino Americans, Latino Communities and South-Central Los Angeles, to name a few.

Cavala’s tired complaint is one heard time and time again from establishment political types on both sides of the aisle. Redistricting is a complicated issue—one which is notoriously difficult to explain to voters. One of the easiest ways to explain the problem is to simply reveal the actual changes that have been made to districts. The problem is not, as Cavala mockingly suggests, that gerrymandered districts merely “look funny.” As people from both parties have been aware for nigh on 200 years, the problem is that such “funny” shapes cut up communities in which people live in order to serve the interest of politicians rather than that of the communities and other groups politicians are elected to represent. The reason that some lifelong politicos don’t appreciate us making the contorted shapes they helped create clear to the public is because such maps make the problem immediately and painfully obvious.

With the advent of modern technology, the art of creating legislative districts has become an incredibly accurate process. During the debate over the Constitution it was said of our representatives: “They are the sign — the people are the thing signified.” Unfortunately, redistricting as practiced today often reverses this principle: the people become a mere sign of the legislators who divide and choose them. The Rose Institute does not apologize to partisans of either political party for providing nonpartisan analysis of such a troubling state of affairs.

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