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A proposition to end all propositions

Redistricting reform would curb 'initiative inflation.'

October 09, 2005|Bill Mundell | BILL MUNDELL is chairman of Californians for Fair Redistricting.

WITH A $6-billion deficit and a Legislature plagued by gridlock, California is in a state of crisis. Of all the measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, Proposition 77 -- under which a panel of retired judges rather than lawmakers would draw legislative and congressional boundaries -- is the most fundamental and critically needed piece of reform. Its passage could ultimately render many initiatives unnecessary, as citizens would have a real choice in candidates and not just entrenched incumbents in safe districts.

Between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, technology turned voter profiling into a virtual science. The gerrymandering in the 2001 redistricting was accomplished with an unprecedented level of precision, the effect of which was positively Orwellian. In the 2004 election, despite a 25% approval rate, the Legislature had a 100% reelection rate.

The failure of representative democracy in this state has led citizens to overly utilize the initiative process to express their will. This "initiative inflation" is evidenced by the 84 citizen initiatives filed with the secretary of state this year, compared with the yearly average of 30 to 40 over the last decade. Most of these initiatives were for unfunded, uncoordinated mandates. Is it any wonder that we have a budget crisis?

By restoring fair elections to California, representation by initiative will cease to be a full-scale replacement for representation by the Legislature.

Since the redistricting of 2001, we have seen some of the lowest voter participation rates in the postwar period. It is a legitimate question to ask where this all leads. How long can this country continue to preach the virtue of democracy abroad -- as we are doing in Iraq -- when we do not practice it at home?

Critics claim that reform is not feasible in time for the June election, but the very technology that politicians used to carve up this state for their own partisan ends can be used to expedite a fair redrawing of the map. New York City recently had to draw districts for 9 million people in five boroughs. Using software called Maptitudes, the same software used by California, New York did the job in just six days. California could easily get the task done within a month.

The constitutionality of mid-census reform also has been questioned. Three times between 1997 and 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mid-decade redistricting was permissible.

The Nov. 8 special election is more than an Armageddon clash between the governor, his interest groups and his corps of followers versus the Democratic Legislature and its union allies.

Although the governor rightly supports Proposition 77, the initiative is not about Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is an echo of the voice of the people. It is the second act of the recall, a vehicle to finish a job begun two years ago to reclaim the sovereignty of the people.

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