CRA: Another Step for Voters First

The California Voters First effort put in place a significant piece of its election puzzle with the nearly unanimous endorsement of the California Republican Assembly. This endorsement highlights the grassroots nature of this effort: while the party leaders on both sides hold back, the grassroots are getting riled up.

This measure’s “Six Steps to Independence” are more complicated than the current incumbent-dominated system; just as counting votes in open, fair elections are more complicated than allowing party bosses to stuff election boxes for their chosen candidate. Attacks on the measure’s complicated nature are a red herring. On the other hand, the measure faces legitimate debate over its criteria and over the decision to leave out Congress.

The new combination of the Governor, AARP, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the California Republican Assembly certainly proves the point that politics makes for strange bedfellows. So does the opposition, with its grouping of the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund, Ted Costa, Nunez spokesman Steve Maviglio, and gerrymanderer extraordinaire Bill Cavala.

Proposition 106, Arizona’s redistricting reform measure, passed in 2000 on the support of the Democratic Party’s funds, leadership from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, and considerable support from local Republicans such as mayors and city councilmembers, despite the opposition of the state’s Republican delegation and Republican party leadership.

Many questions remain: Whether California’s elected and party leadership will support, oppose, or sit out on this campaign? If the two parties join in opposition it will take real money to pass the initiative. Will the Governor come through with those needed funds? Or will the Legislative Leaders step aside and allow the Voters First coalition to do what Speaker Nunez and President Pro Tem Perata repeatedly promised and repeatedly failed to deliver? Will the concerns raised by People’s Advocate about the selection process and the criteria lead to the Republican Party’s opposition despite the CRA endorsement?

The media’s (and the governor’s) focus on competitiveness is incorrect. Polls have consistently shown that the voters care more about communities than competitiveness. And lines drawn purely for competitiveness result in the most community divisions and bizarre lines possible.

Redistricting is about local communities. In California, we have the benefit that many communities are politically diverse, and a significant number of districts end up competitive when drawn based on communities. Communities are the proper focus for redistricting, and the people and voters in those communities are the primary beneficiaries of redistricting reform.

Voters First faces a long and difficult road to passage, and that road is the easy part. The hard part will be drawing new lines in public that end California’s legacy of community-dividing, deadlock-inducing gerrymanders.

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