Sunday, August 14, 2005

When In Doubt - Farm It Out

The following post is from Doug Johnson, a Fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. (GO STAGS.) A special phoblog thanks for the content while we continue our Red State Road Trip '05

Rose Redistricting Ruling Reaction

First there's the obvious key reaction: California voters have another chance to decide whether to fix our severely out-of-whack system that lets incumbents choose which voters they want, instead of vice versa.

But there are many complications to the Court's decision. First is the tangent, which I will leave to others to discuss: what does this ruling mean for future initiatives? Are new maneuvers and shenanigans allowed under this precedent? Is a ruling in this form a precedent?

On the redistricting front, an interesting twist that impacts California's debate occurred in Ohio on August 10th. On that day, the "Reform Ohio Now" (RON) coalition turned in signatures on a redistricting reform proposal (along with two other reform proposals). The RON proposal is a mid-decade redistricting. If passed, it would redraw Ohio's districts before the 2008 elections. The twist? Common Cause is one of the backers of RON, as is the Ohio Federation of Teachers. Will Common Cause and the Teachers' Union support mid-decade redistricting in Republican-controlled Ohio but oppose mid-decade reform in Democrat-controlled California? And will MALDEF file a lawsuit in Ohio seeking to block mid-decade redistrictings, as they have done in California and Texas? All three organizations face difficult decisions and some soul-searching on the mid-decade question.

Redistricting reform supporters face an even larger challenge: The Governor and other supporters face a difficult twelve weeks to election day. Polls show the initiative trailing in the polls, though among people who are aware of the initiative it has a narrow lead ( Our own Rose Institute poll ( found that voters overwhelmingly believe redistricting by legislators is a conflict of interest and redistricting is better done by independent bodies than by the legislature. Even 70 percent of registered Democrats agree on both those points. But voters remain hesitant to embrace the current redistricting reform proposal. Its supporters face the challenging task of convincing voters to support it.

There remains, of course, one other option: a deal between legislators and the Governor. There is debate about whether the deadline for a deal is Monday or Thursday, though Thursday is more likely. Will the Court's ruling finally lead to an agreement, at least on this one issue? It is doubtful, but not as doubtful as it was before the ruling.

Redistricting reform has been a roller coaster of an issue, both this year and for the last 50 years. This week's events are par for the course.


ajit said...

I wonder if comparing the demographic changes in the last eight years between Ohio and California is a fair thing to do. Since the last census, Ohio has maybe grown by 3%? And in California probably nearer 10%. And if you look at the ways different ethnic groups have fared, a key point with redistricting, then there is certainly reason why Common Cause would be quite apprehensive of a mid-decade redistricting in the Golden State.

And boy is this going to be an easy one to politicize in California - especially since it is a clear power grab by the Governor.

Anonymous said...

Follow Up addendum:
Common Cause and the League of Women Voters are both supporting redistricting reform in Florida, which also includes a 2008 redistricting.

The previous comment raises an interesting point. Here is my response:

#1 - Districts redrawn mid-decade are no more out of population balance than the existing districts. If the population balance remains the same, why continue to suffer under a system where incumbents picked their own voters and that (according to MALDEF) discriminated against California's Latino population?

#2 - California will have grown less between 2000 and 2006 than we grew between 1980 and 1984 (the last time California voters forced a mid-decade redistricting).

Anonymous said...

Without recent census totals, there is no way to know where voters live. Every time there has been a mid decade redistricting the numbers have been dramatically off.

But the bigger question is whether or not people want their judges involved in politics which is what has happened in every state where this type of council runs reapportionment.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous:

To point #1: the numbers are no more off than the currently-in-place districts. No harm, no foul.

To point #2: I don't know from where you make this conclusion, since no other state uses a commission of judges -- much less retired judges -- to constitute an independent commission.

When the CA Supreme Court stepped in and drew the district lines in both 1973 and 1991, the lines were widely hailed by all sides as creating fair, competitive, and representative districts.

Anonymous said...

On a side note, this is interesting!