From the day he began running to replace ex-Gov. Gray Davis,
Arnold Schwarzenegger has talked reform. But almost a year and a
half later, reform is still mostly just talk.
From the day he began running to replace ex-Gov. Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger has talked reform. But almost a year and a half later, reform is still mostly just talk.

And lately, redistricting has become the reform Schwarzenegger talks about most. It’s not right, he says, that legislators now draw the boundaries for their own districts.

Cynics, of course, respond that Republican Schwarzenegger only gripes about redistricting because Democrats dominated the once-a-decade process in 2001 and have maintained solid majorities ever since in both the Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation.

Regardless of the governor’s motives, there’s little doubt California needs redistricting reform. A stunning lack of close races for Congress, the state Assembly and the state Senate was one reason for dismal voter participation in 2002. Even though turnout was up last fall, the election season produced absolutely no party changes in Sacramento.

The 2001 remapping plan, thus, works precisely as its authors, both Democrat and Republican, wanted: It protects incumbents, placing great handicaps in the path of challengers.

If Schwarzenegger is serious about reform and not using it merely as a convenient dodge to avoid discussing the very real budget problems he faces, Ted Costa has a vehicle waiting out there for him to get aboard.

Costa, head of the People’s Advocate citizen lobby, filed the 2003 recall papers that eventually put Schwarzenegger in office. From the start of the recall, he maintained that ousting Davis was merely one step toward needed reforms the ex-governor would never back. He promised to develop a redistricting reform initiative, and now he has. Several rival remap reform plans may also be filed soon, but Costa’s embodies a formula seemingly made to order for Schwarzenegger, who often claims to encourage bipartisan endeavors.

The Costa plan would use a panel of special masters to draw district lines every 10 years, with their plan automatically placed on the ballot for a yes-or-no vote of the people. All special masters would be retired judges, with the leaders of both major parties in the Assembly and state Senate each nominating three prospective masters. Each legislative leader would also get one peremptory veto of a person nominated by any of the other leaders. From that pool, a three-person panel would be chosen by lot, with the requirement that at it include at least one registered member of each major party.

No one receiving money from a politician or a political organization during the preceding 12 months would be eligible to serve. Taken together, that’s about as bipartisan a way as anyone could dream up for choosing a streamlined remapping committee.

Besides fixing the longstanding self-serving politics of redistricting, Costa also wants to clean up the shape of the districts themselves. As it stands, some districts are shaped a little like hourglasses, others like octopi. The term for this is gerrymandering, named for Eldridge Gerry, a Massachusetts politician of the early 19th Century who drew district lines to benefit his allies so convoluted they reminded one vocal contemporary critic of a salamander.

There would be no salamander shapes under this plan. “Every district shall be as compact as practicable…” says the measure. “A contiguous area of population shall not be bypassed (in drawing maps) to incorporate an area of population more distant. No census block shall be fragmented…”

In short, districts that contain strips as narrow as one block wide connecting two larger areas in order to assure control for one party – and there have been many like that in the last few remaps – would be outlawed.

So Costa has a sane plan, one that puts the people in the driver’s seat because they can vote it down if they think it’s unfair.

That seemingly makes it an ideal proposal for Schwarzenegger to get behind. If he doesn’t back Costa’s plan or something very similar, it will be a sure sign that despite his rhetoric, the governor really doesn’t care much about reforming a process that’s plainly defective today.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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