Tuesday, February 22, 2005

It's Not Reapportionment

First off, Ms. Jeffe, it's "redistricting," not "reapportionment." Reapportionment is the process by which seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned among the states. Redistricting is the process by which states draw the lines to create districts those Representatives will represent.

Got it?

Good. For some reason California policy buffs notoriously make this mistake.

Anyway - oft-quoted policy wonk Sherry Bebitch Jeffe turns her attention to Schwarzenegger's redistricting reform efforts. Jeffe challenges the notion that an independent body's lines would yield a dramatically different political landscape - citing history as a guide.

Redistricting challenges in the 70s and 90s ended up in the courts and both times, she argues, Republicans expected to gain seats - but didn't. We certainly appreciated attention to reality - seldom adequately paid by policy theorists - but, as she says, nothing happens in a vacuum. She both points out and plays down the '92 economy as a reason for Rep losses after the court-ordered redrawn lines went into effect.

A new redistricting process by no means guarantees Ds and Rs an equal number of seats. It's not supposed to do that. While Jeffe focuses on the high altitude view of reform, she ignores the internal effect - the intradistrict, intraparty struggles. Instead, she blames the lack of open primaries for extreme-winged candidates.

Jeffe ends her argument by claiming that Californians are less interested in spending money on a special election to determine this "insider game" than they are in "overcoming threats to their quality of life:" rising healthcare costs, schools, etc.

That's because too many commentators are letting voters off easy. This is only an "insider game" because there have been few efforts to really educate the public. We'll say it until we're blue in the face: WHO decides is the biggest indicator of WHAT is decided. It's time to think outside the box: any true reform has to completely dismantle the system as it exists - no attention can be paid to current district lines. In the end, effective reform might not change the D/R balance - but it will change the intra-D and intra-R balance - which will end up helping those quality of life issues Californians are rightfully concerned about as well. Because when more moderate voices are engaged in a deliberate, reasoned, debate, public policy - and the public coffers - win.

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