Tuesday, June 28, 2005

SCA 3 Update: Good Idea Hijacked, 'Monkeys With Darts' Preferable

SCA 3 Update: Good Idea Hijacked, Monkeys With Darts Preferable

Rose Institute Fellow and redistricting reform expert Doug Johnson weighs in on the substantive side of the reform proposal unveiled today (speaking for himself, on substance, and not on behalf of the Rose). I’ll admit, though I linked to the bill’s history, I didn’t fine-tooth the latest amendments. That’s my bad. Fortunately, I have attentive, expert readers.

It’s worth noting, as well, that if – as Doug says below – the latest version of the bill is redlined to the Constitution and not to previous versions of the bill, it would be a very unorthodox method of drafting (at least in my meager experience). It seems, however, that due to the fundamental difference of what’s going on in this latest version, it is redlined in the usual manner, it just gets a bit confusing with all that’s going on. (Use very user-friendly tabbed screen of the bill versions to compare for yourself):

Sen. Perata held a press conference today to announce the Leadership's hijacking of Senator Lowenthal's redistricting reform bill, SCA 3. (See the June 27th amendments, but note that at least one cosponsor [Ashburn (R-Bakersfield] is withdrawing, upset that Lowenthal did not check before resubmitting with his name on it.)

There is nothing "independent" about this proposed commission. While anything is better than the legislators drawing their own districts, even monkeys throwing darts at a map, I think the monkeys would be better for Californians than this proposal.

Perata has stripped out all of the criteria for how districts are to be drawn, leaving only population equality. The bill also mentions city and county borders -- using the same language currently in the Constitution and we've seen how well that works -- and communities of interest, but it makes total population equality the be-all and end-all requirement.

The bill is so completely hijacked that the strikeouts and additions shown in the latest version are comparisons to the Constitution, not to the previous version of the bill. [Ed’s note: see above comments]

The bill removes any claim of "independent" from the Commission. The new Commission would be appointed by the 'big 5' Sacramento leaders, plus one by the President of the UC system (anyone remember where his budget comes from?) and one by the Judicial Council, which includes one incumbent Senator and one incumbent Assemblyman (both Democrats). While partisan balance is claimed by a max of 3 members from any one party, those members only need be members of the party for 3 years, and they cannot be lobbyists, office holders, or campaign "officers." A neat term: campaign managers, we should note, for legal purposes, are usually NOT officers of campaigns, rather they tend to be employees. There is no application and review process (as proposed in the earlier versions of the bill), nor any random drawing (as other proposals do, usually from retired judges).

So each of the Legislative leaders will appoint their campaign managers; the judicial council and UC President will appoint whomever the legislative leaders tell them to appoint; and the Gov will either rebel or trade his appointment for some concession from the legislature. Not very independent.

And then there are no real rules for how the Controlled Commission draws its districts, other than the same federal laws that let Tom DeLay go wild in Texas. Population balance -- the legal reason why California Legislators claim the right to split communities across the state -- is actually given MORE emphasis than under current law.
Ah – well, this analysis would explain Perata’s sudden change of heart (and why Lowenthal’s name wasn’t as played up in the article as “Senate Dems”). We’ll see if we can get some reax from Principal Co-author Joe Simitian, too.

As far as the dart-wielding mokey's proposal, PETA has already emailed Phoblographer* to register its opposition. But it does seem like leaving it in the legislature may, in fact, be better than making it a small politicized group (instead of a 140 member politicized group whose jobs we can more directly affect). Promise to do more reading up as well . . . . see what's really going on here.


Heather (Athene) said...

This whole redistricting, find someone who is "independent" thing drives me nuts. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS INDEPENDENT. If there were, we would not need the balance of powers, Constitution, etc., etc. Faction will always be present, whether in a large body or a small... (Anyone here married? You soooo know how true this is...)

Anyway, good old Father Madison, who designed the system after all, says that the ONLY way to deal with Faction is to make the governing body so damn big that it becomes nearly impossible for majorities to form and impose their corrupt, special interest purposes on everyone else. Basically, you drown faction out... by increasing the size of policymaking bodies, not decreasing them....

So, whether it's a redistricting panel or the legislature: SIZE MATTERS!

Can I get an amen?!

Whew... now there's a diatribe for 'ya... someone's obviously in a snit today... sigh... if only I ruled the world...

cd said...

I know I know, I feel the same way - that's why I yell equally loudly about the presumption that judges are these almight, impartial bastions of fairness. Just ain't true. especially here in Cali where we insist on electing them. (sorta. but if i rant more on this, i'll just end up publishing chunks of text from my thesis).

I believe what we're aiming for is ambition counteracting ambition, right?

Increased size is good. But the reality is, size isn't what you think it is. And you know the shades upon shades of what's going on here make it hard to create a better system.

But we still have to try, because it is broken right now.

Doug @ the Rose said...

"Those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it."

In 1973 and in 1991, retired judges drew districts for California that respected communities, allowed grassroots organization to make a difference, and (without intentionally trying) created enough competitive districts that control of the legislature and the Congressional delegation could swing back and forth between the parties as voter preferences shifted.

They're certainly not angels, but retired judges (preferably with a 'strike one from the list' option for each legislative leader) are the best option out there. We can argue theories, but there's no arguing with history.

Anonymous said...

Actually, retired judges are not only "not angels", they are also overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly affluent. (just as a disclaimer, as a Democrat I preferered the lines the Judges drew in 1990. Those lines resulted in 50 Assembly seats for the Dems and 26 seats in the Senate. In fact, if the legislative drafters of the last redistricting plan and just left the judges lines in place, the Dems wouldn't have lost two seats in the Assembly and 1 in the Senate.)

Also, just for the record, the legislature also appropriates money for the courts. So to suggest that Judges would not be under the same pressure to perform the legislature's bidding as the UC President is simply naive.

Finally, why in the hell would the legislative leaders pick their campaign managers to draw new lines? Not only is that HIGHLY unlikely, I would be willing to wager my house on that not happening. Redistricting consultants are highly specialized and I doubt they would waste thier time with something as mundane as managing a state Senate or Assembly Campaign.

While there are many problems with the current commission appointments in the new version of SCA 3, it would only be made worse if we left it up to a bunch of white, male lawyers.

cd said...

Anonymous, I'd like you to meet a guy named Michael Berman . . . .

You're right about the make-up of the bench. It is, however, slowly changing as more and more diverse students graduate from law school and enter the profession. (I wrote my thesis on this issue, so if you want data . . . .)

The thing is, though, this latest ACA 3 versions "Commission on Boundaries and Accountability" (loving the name) doesn't include any of the good-government criteria that are necessary to affect real reform in this area.

I don't think a white, male judge could really screw up a district were he operating under the right guidelines. I also believe, deeply, that if we presume a white, male judge can't draw a fair district - surely this is your implication - for minorities then we've pretty much given up on representative government completely. There should be, and in fact is, no good reason why cartographic changes can't be enacted fairly by someone of any gender/ethnic/etc make up.

Good-government redistricting requires the preservation of communities of interest, of political subdivisions, of Voting Rights interest, of geographic logic, and of partisan competitiveness. Modern mapping software makes all of this remarkably easy.

Judges - retired ones at that - while not inherently fair - are the way to go over an "independent commission."

And, though I'm a Democrat, as a party, we should seriously look at the benefits of obtaining and maintaining very large majorities. Large majorities are hard to maintain, hard to lead, hard to control, and nearly impossible to keep unified. That's not to say I want to lose a single, winnable seat - but when it comes to drawing lines, it'd be nice to take half a second to think about what's best for policy over the next forty (NOT FOUR) years. Fringe policy isn't. Moderation is.