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Old Allies Go to War Over Remap : Politics: League's stand in favor of a commission to redraw districts has the Democrats fuming.

April 01, 1990|Joe Scott | Joe Scott is a Los Angeles political columnist.

State Democratic lawmakers have declared war on the state League of Women Voters. The staunchly nonpartisan group, a frequent Democratic ally on public-policy issues, is allied with Republicans in backing a reapportionment measure that Democrats hate.

The league got directly involved in the reapportionment issue last June, when it endorsed Proposition 119. Authored by San Mateo County Supervisor Tom Huening, a Republican, the June ballot measure would take redistricting power from the Legislature and give it to a 12-member commission. Retired appellate-court justices would appoint the commission members--five Democrats, five Republicans and two independents. Racial, ethnic, gender and geographic diversity would be required.

As do the Democrats, the league opposes Proposition 118, which would keep redistricting in the hands of legislators. It likes Proposition 119 because it is "partisan neutral" and political power is shifted from officeholders to voters.

Democratic leaders in Washington and California don't see reapportionment in anything but partisan terms, since their legislative control is on the line. To protect themselves, they have mounted a multimillion-dollar campaign to defeat both reapportionment measures.

Essentially, Democrats contend that Proposition 119 would let big money and special interests shape the post-census political map. Their agents would be the judges who'd appoint the commission, or "mostly old white men," to use Assembly Speaker Willie Brown's description.

Its endorsement of Proposition 119 has clearly tarnished the league's luster in Democratic circles. At a recent women's forum in Ontario on redistricting, Brown implied that the League of Women Voters should stay in the kitchen where it belongs. Since last summer, Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento have unmercifully dumped on the organization's 17-year lobbyist, Margaret Herman. "I've never seen anything like it," she says.

Michael Galizio, Brown's chief of staff, refused to meet with Herman to discuss some policy issues on the ground that the league is "too partisan." Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), Brown's chief remapping deputy, said many colleagues were surprised at the league's "naivete" and "Alice in Wonderland" attitude in backing Proposition 119. "The league," said Katz, "has sold out to the GOP."

All this has fostered a move within the league to reconsider its support for Proposition 119. A letter discrediting the commission idea is currently being circulated.

But league president Carole Wagner Vallianos said that she would not hesitate to go to court to defend her group's nonpartisan reputation. She has challenged Speaker Brown to a debate on the pros and cons of Proposition 119.

How did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dianne Feinstein come upon the idea to use Richard Nixon to fend off John Van de Kamp's negative TV ad assault and call for a positive campaign?

Feinstein chose the Nixon "smear" metaphor after hearing the reaction of old political war horse Hadley Roff, an aide, to a Van de Kamp speech last month in San Jose. The attorney general linked Feinstein to convicted Sacramento legislator Joseph Montoya and the crimes of ex-Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

"That sounds like Nixon smearing Douglas," said Roff, referring to the 1950 U.S. Senate campaign. Nixon christened Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas the "Pink Lady" for her allegedly leftist views.

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