Misleading California’s Voters: The Financial Accountability In Redistricting Act

The California Democratic redistricting machine is worried. Led by Congressman Howard Berman and his consultant brother Michael, they controlled the state’s bipartisan incumbent-protection gerrymander in 2001. Now their control is threatened by an initiative that would place Congressional redistricting within the mandate of the Citizens Redistricting Commission. Congressman Berman and his allies are responding with a misleading measure aimed at confusing voters, apparently conceding that they cannot win the debate on the merits of their views. The Berman effort, funded by House Speaker Pelosi, former Assembly Speaker turned Congressional candidate Karen Bass, and 12 other members of the California Democratic Congressional delegation, is entitled the “Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act,” ironically called the “FAIR” initiative. Despite the voters’ 2008 approval of the Redistricting Commission and the overwhelming public interest in serving on the state’s first-ever independent redistricting commission, the Berman brothers’ measure would entirely abolish the Redistricting Commission and return control of both legislative and Congressional redistricting to the state legislators. Few think this measure has any chance of passage. Its real goal is to defeat Munger’s commission proposal by confusing voters this November. Placing two different redistricting propositions on the ballot may fool voters into voting for the wrong measure, or convince voters into simply voting no on both out of confusion.
For the past decade, virtually all of California’s Members of Congress enjoyed safe seats, thanks to a bipartisan incumbent-protection gerrymander adopted in 2001. In more than 212 Congressional elections from 2002 through 2008, only one seat changed party control, despite significant shifts in voter sentiments from left to right (2002, 2004) to left again (2006, 2008).
Today California’s Members of Congress face the unknown. Their fates are in the hands of the state legislature. In turn, the fates of the state legislators are under the control of the Citizens Redistricting Commission. The plans drawn by the Commission might put the political future of many state legislators at risk. Worried by the Commission, state legislators may draw current congressional incumbents out of their districts, opening up seats in Congress friendly to the state legislators. Both Republican and Democratic state legislators may support such a move as a means of promoting themselves at the expense of Congressional incumbents.
If the initiative succeeds at bringing Congressional districts under the Commission’s control, California’s Congressional Delegation faces even more uncertainty. A fair, community-oriented Congressional redistricting could lead to competitive elections for many Congressional incumbents, and some incumbents could find themselves drawn into districts together. As Shane Goldmacher reported: “Democratic political strategists say the best way to ensure a “no” vote this fall on the congressional [reform] measure is to confuse the public further with a second ballot measure on the already head spinning topic of political line drawing.” Proposition 11 in 2008 passed with only 50.9 percent of the vote, so if confusion reduces the vote by even 1% or 2% it could be decisive.
In one respect, FAIR is a positive sign: when the beneficiaries of the status quo are forced to resort to deception to preserve their positions, it is a sign they are desperate. Clearly, even they can see which way the winds of change are blowing.

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