First - my thoughts on the Rose Institute Report:
1.) The report makes a nice stab at the Florida practice of not listing unchallenged candidates on the ballot. It has little to do with redistricting reform - except as a related illness or symptom, but it's still a shameful practice. Of course, the report doesn't mention that the same rule exists in California with respect to judicial candidates for Superior Court. However, since I already said this isn't germane to discussions of redistricting reform, I won't take this opportunity to wax poetic on the ills of a fake populist concept like judicial elections. I did, however, right my thesis on it, so if anyone wants to nerd-out on the subject, I'm your gal.
2.) The report focuses on congressional district abuses but does mention the equally quease-inducing AD and SD lines (more so on the SDs than the ADs, but they aren't perfect either). The fault for those lies squarely with former Speaker Bob Hertzberg whose "protect Cardoza at all costs" requirement royally screwed many a great legislator for the benefit of someone who pounced on a better political opportunity and skipped off to DC anyway. They carved Fred Keeley's district like Christmas goose, cooking his in the process. It was, perhaps, one of the few cases in which drawing a current member's next seat would've been a great thing. Mr. Keely, we miss you so . . . .
3.) I take exception to the reports description of Prop. 77's criteria as "clear" and "specific." I think a few more lines of guidance would improve the process. It's easy for the Rose and a few others of us to read into Prop. 77's criteria our own levels of specificity - but whether the judiciary would infer the same is unknown. For a better alternative, see the Rose's own model reform language - an analysis of which has long been promised and delayed, I know. It requires a complete reform of not only the process, but your entire understanding of the current starting point. New map components and extensive public comment are just two of the plans innovations that can lead to that magical state map that pisses everyone off equally.
4.) And speaking of public comments, the report's assertion that a redraw using 2000 census data would include the '01 process's public comments doesn't make sense to me since I don't recall reading that in 77's language. But I could be wrong. Otherwise, not sure that the court would refer to it - but they might.
5.) The Rose has long been a fan of term limits. That's the one policy concept I never came to embrace while there nor since I've worked for the State Legislature nor at any time. The argument that the number of women in the legislature will be partially aided by term limits was true at one time, but the pipeline has run dry. If that bothers you, send checks to Emerge . . . .
6.) One criticism with which I may, at least initially, agree is that the whole publication would be stronger if it contained maps showing what this bundle of swell representative districts looked like. Frankly, even including just the 1991 and 2001 maps so people could really see the damage would've been a bonus. I'm pretty sure some maps were drawn to come up with the results (can't figure out how'd they'd guess it out in their heads) so why not publish them as well? (Doug?) I don't, however, agree with one of my new frequent-commenter's thoughts on the matter and his reasonings on why the maps should've been released (see comments here).
If the report has any shortcomings, they don't stem from ex- or implicit partisan rhetoric or goals. There's no vote-for-77-or-else, simply the conclusion that 77's system is vastly better than what we've got. The mid-decade argument against it doesn't directly counter the wisdom of the plan (though it once again calls Costa's wisdom into question) - only the folly of a lone provision that a court, given the right slow-pitch brief, could knock right outta the game.
Now, on the USC Report:
1.) If some argue the Rose report is partisan and conclusory, it is only because the report avoids the passive voice and says "the legislature manipulates the process to reduce competition," instead of USC's touchy-feelier, oh-so-old-school-academia "The legislative redistricting process has been criticized as being manipulated to achieve one of two outcomes that reduce competition . . . ." (page 3) C'mon, USC, who has criticized the legislative redistricting process? (Answer: uh, most people except for a handful of partisan true-believers and Michael Berman).
2.) Favorite factoid diction: in its section discussing other states' reform efforts, the USC report says:
Most redistricting commissions were adopted by legislatures, often as a response to a credible threat that reformers would use the initiative process to establish a commission.That's amusing in two ways: first, the use of "credible threat" can't help but bring a smile to politicos. Second, it's yet more evidence that California's legislators take crap from no one - even when they probably should.
3.) Table 2 on page 9 of the report presents various criteria and whether they exist under current law or would under Prop. 77. It's a nice graphic, though it implies compliance with the VRA isn't part of current practice, which is sorta true if it isn't specifically spelled out in statute, but not really true because compliance with federal law is seldom optional.
4.) The report states that experience in other states does not indicate that compactness, nor multiple criteria, save plans from litigation or charges of unfairness. This isn't newsworthy. No plan is perfect for all constituencies (meaning, the good-government plan is likely to piss of any number of interest groups defined by ethnicity, race, party affiliation, NIMBYism, incumbency). Who draws the plans and how are called "the most critical factors influencing the competitiveness of a redistricting plan." I would argue that explicit line-drawing criteria are part-and-parcel to that.
5.) Both the USC and Rose reports are limited in their predictive value because Prop. 77 contains as yet untested mechanisms. The USC report is more upfront about the limitation, but both reports gloss over the wildest of wildcard provisions. They can't really help it. It's also difficult to analogize one report to the other in a meaningful way because each is premised on different assumptions.
6.) The USC report says commission plans have been subjected to legal challenges as often as legislative plans. Again, so what? We live in possibly the most litigious state in the country in the most litigious country in the world. If Jesus came down and redrew the lines, someone - probably the ACLU - would file suit the next day anyway.
7.) That damned voter approval provision gets short-shrift here too. Hard to fault anyone for that since who knows how that will affect the process. Hard to fault anyone for ignoring it more because I doubt this is going to pass anyway . . . . oops, reality busting into the post, sorry.
8.) Again on page 12 we're treated to a rundown of current research on the value of a compactness requirement. Shockingly, there is disagreement on how to measure for compactness. This comes from those "political science" types. I'm tempted to go porno on the issue: as in "I know it when I see it." Lois Capps old district was compact. Her current district is not. Let's start from there and use a little common sense, eh?
9.) I disagree with the compactness-as-packing notion. I also disagree with the idea that compactness and competition - STATEWIDE - are mutually exclusive. Certain areas will be safe D or R no matter what you do to them. There's nothing wrong with that. A better system isn't about making 52 competitive congressional districts. It's about letting competition flourish where it would, were it not mashed by the hands of interested artists. Take the Palos Verdes Peninsula and surrounding areas. Were the region kept together in an even slightly logical way, it would be a swing area (San Pedro and the hill would balance each other out - and it's always been swingy). Right now, the hill is - at various levels of government - carved into and out of old districts to keep the pesky conservatives away from the Dems. And their neighbors. And where they most often travel. Because of this, districts were made to snake around the hill and separate, oh, I don't know, ME and my neighbors from those who share our interests more closely than the rest of Senator Vincent's traditional constituents. A compact district there would've been both competitive and would've passed the laugh test.
10.) California's demography - current and predicted - means most of these worries won't apply in 10 years time. New and equally ugly ones will, however.
11.) On the downside of incumbent-blind redistricting: yes it sucks to lose long-time reps when you get drawn out of their district, or they get drawn out of their own districts (see: Keeley, Fred). But I disagree that such a provision may discourage qualified candidates because of the chance the district will change every 10 years. I'm sure there's a Founders-argument in there about a healthy rotation of representatives, but I also don't have much of a problem with career politicians. But it's a privilege, not a right, to have a district all your own. Bruce Cain - if you end up reading this, since its your argument, I invite your comment.
12.) It's worth nothing that the argument comes from a 1984, pre-term limits Cain publication. Term limits already force a job change every so often - so do re-draws make it THAT much worse?
As seems to be a trend with this new USC policy outfit, their Prop. 77 report is more of a meta-analysis of past research on the efficacy of various redistricting plans. There's nothing wrong with this kind of summary, but it's still just an overview. There isn't much in the USC methodology that can be criticized because they don't have a methodology. Everyone they cite has one - but since no one is paying me for writing this blog and I'm paying the state a lot of money for an education, I'm not about to get into their methodologies here. But man, would I be a rockstar if I did. I bet USC has some donors and stuff. Maybe they could do it.
The USC report has more other hands than that giant squid they found in Japan last week. It's a useful survey, but hard to boil down to a solid conclusion. And at its core, redistricting is as much an art as a science. Strict criteria is step one, but a solid policy on which to hang those elements is essential.
Redistricting is a lot like a child's puzzle: those little squares that shift in a 4 by 4 grid with one missing and require the player to form a picture or a correct sequence of numbers. There may be a strategy, but mostly, it's a lot of movement and guesswork that leads to a big picture. In the real-world application, redistricting requires balancing many interests and concepts and coming up with the best case scenario. Sometimes this will mean having a few less-compact districts. Sometimes this requires keeping a community straddling city limits together in one district. Sinking the proposal because there are examples of how each criteria can go wrong is unfair and unrealistic.
That said, Prop. 77's wildcards make it hard to support outright - which is a damn shame because this was a blue-moon opportunity for a badly needed reform. It'd be nice if California's Legislators take this near-miss as a warning and get on with reforming. But I doubt it.
The Rose report says "this plan is good, so do it" which I will continue to maintain is not out-of-line for an academic institution. The USC report is a great overview of existing research, but adds little to the current debate. In fact, I'm not sure what good it really does. But it does no harm, either. And bonus points for making the report available in Spanish.
Grade: D (for just republishing others' work)
Lastly - The No Team's White Paper:
1.) The title tells you pretty much what will follow: "A critical analysis of Proposition 77 - the mid-decade redistricting proposition on the November 8th ballot." So, you're saying the mid-decade thing is a problem, right?
2.) Dear No on 77: it's not a phantom disease. You can oppose 77 on a zillion grounds, but "phantom disease" ain't one of 'em.
3.) A minor point - but please don't start sentences with digits. That's just poor form.
4.) It's really difficult to present reasoned arguments supporting or opposing the white paper's assertions because they aren't reasoned to being with.
5.) Michael Barone may have called CD 23 "elegant," fine. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the notion that if you sliced Cali into new states, you'd need more than just NorCal and SoCal - you'd need Coastal Cal, and interior South and interior North. But what about the other hack jobs? SD 25? Anyone?
6.) I'm sorry, I tried. I've made it to page 7, but I don't have the time or energy to thoroughly analyze something that's intended for a non-academic purpose. I'll finish reading it and if anything really pops out at me, I'll update this post - which is overlong as it is.
[Update: have read the whole thing. No further comment at this time.]
7.) At one point, the report asks what kind of judge would volunteer to redistrict California. “A partisan judge with an agenda,” say the No folks. Raging nerds like me, maybe? Bored retired judges who like being important?
8.) The gloss on the California judicial selection process offends my inner academic (remember: thesis on the topic). They are right that the “overwhelming majority of state judges are appointed without meaningful public knowledge and virtually no scrutiny.” Yet, no mention is made that all judges could appear on the ballot and that, were they so inclined, voters and parties could game the holy hell out of judgeships with little problem. The joy of an “elected” judiciary. Influencing current judicial elections may not affect 2006, 2008, or 2010 – or even 2020 – redistrictings, but again, this isn’t about the next 10 or 20 years, it’s about the next 100.
9.) Yes, the measure should’ve been excluded from the ballot under the substantial compliance doctrine. Bad Supreme Court, no biscuit.
10.) There’s an extensive Rose-Institute-Bad addendum. Among many things in that section I have a problem with – the notion that women’s opportunities are forwarded under the current plan is goofy. Of the examples of women elected in the current districts one is the sister of a sitting congresswoman and the other is the widow of one who died in office. I’m not trying to take anything away from those women’s accomplishments, nor do I have data to support Prop. 77 makes things better for us, but the paper’s arguments are weak. At the same time, don’t use another two women as an excuse to draw goofy districts. The rest of the addendum is similarly rushed – which the authors blame on the Rose Institute.
Proposition 77 has two major substantive flaws and one major strategic flaw. Substantively: the mid-decade provision and the voter approval provision. Strategically: it's Ted Costa's. That hat trick of trouble, along with an enfeebled Governor, means Prop. 77 doesn't need this "white paper" to help it to its certain demise. One of my commenters referred to it as "excellent." At the same time he/she has yelled loudest about the Rose paper seeming partisan. I'm baffled. Perhaps he/she has withdrawn the implied affection for the white paper, but it's hard to tell.
The paper is very well-written and serves its purpose well. But that purpose is clear, unhidden, and certainly is not a circumspect analysis of a policy proposal. That said, it's hard to argue with something that calls the Governor out on his idiocy. "Blow up boxes" my ass . . . .
Grade: A for rhetoric, C for analytical value.
Overall, the Rose report is stylistically less elegant than the USC report or white paper - but it specifically spells out the difficulties in comparing Prop. 77's provisions to anything in existence and the application of those provisions to California specifically compared to reform efforts in demographically different states. The USC plan does a great job compiling everyone else's research. And the white paper's strength is its unapologetic attack on the initiative's weaknesses - which are significant. The white paper is also the most persuasive of the three. It won't persuade me that reform is unnecessary, of course, and several of its sections are kooky. But like any infomercial, it has enough truth to hook a lot of people.
Prop. 77's wisdom remains a close question. Equally pragmatic people are passionately involved on both sides. Reality proves that incumbents are always going to have the edge regardless of district lines or re-draw methods. Put when term limits force incumbents out, districts' importance rise dramatically. Safe districts aid hand-picked heirs and give us the marginal primary candidates that will - make no mistake - hamper efforts to maintain a Democratic majority in the long run.