Weintraub on Term Limits, Redistricting, and Poizner

Dan Weintraub’s column in the Sacramento Bee lays out the case for redistricting reform and its logical relation to term limits reform:

Bottom line: Term limits reform is a good idea, but without reform of the way district lines are drawn, it could make a bad system even worse.


Poizner is a moderate Republican who has long been miffed at the way legislators draw their own political boundaries to dictate election outcomes. In 2004, he nearly won a Silicon Valley seat in the Assembly that was drawn by Democrats for a Democrat. That experience gave him an intimate education in how the addition of a few neighborhoods here and the deletion of a few blocks there can change the character of a political district and all but guarantee that it will elect a member of one party or the other.

Using modern computers and sophisticated databases, the politicians can draw district lines with what Poizner calls “surgical accuracy.”

In more than 450 elections since the current lines took effect, he notes, only one seat has changed party hands.

That kind of guaranteed result has a perverse side effect: It reduces the incentive for the parties to field candidates who can reach out to independent voters and the opposing party. If the outcome of a general election contest is not in doubt, party leaders tend to back the most conservative Republicans and the most liberal Democrats in the primaries, leading to a Legislature that is polarized along party lines.

A year after his defeat, Poizner helped fund an unsuccessful ballot measure that sought to strip the Legislature of the power to draw district lines every 10 years. The proposal would have given that job to an independent commission instead. But the initiative – Proposition 77 – went down to defeat with a slate of measures backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in an unpopular special election.

During that campaign, Senate Leader Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez said they supported the concept of an independent commission and promised voters that they would put a new measure on the ballot that lacked the flaws they saw in the proposal backed by Poizner and Schwarzenegger.

But the legislative leaders broke that promise. Instead, they crafted Proposition 93, which would save their jobs by extending their terms and the terms of dozens of other sitting legislators. Given a chance to present the voters with a coherent package of election law changes that, taken together, would have improved the way we elect and retain members of the Legislature, they failed.

For more information on Proposition 77, see our archives here, especially Restoring the Competitive Edge: California’s Need for Redistricting Reform and the Likely Impact of Propsition 77.

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