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Spoiled brats

Sacramento lawmakers have pulled another nasty redistricting prank on voters. Timeout comes in February.

September 14, 2007

Early in his tenure, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for the Legislature to revert to the part-time status it held until 1966. It was a bad idea. California's budget is too large and its challenges too daunting for an executive and his bureaucrats to manage without professional, full-time legislative oversight. Yet there are days when Schwarzenegger's notion has a certain emotional appeal. This is one of those days.

That's because lawmakers just blew an unparalleled chance to return some integrity to the process of shaping their districts. They spent a year toying with proposals to end gerrymandering, the same way a 6-year-old toys with a plate of spinach. But when it was time to act, they pushed the whole thing off the table.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) waited until the final days of the session, when lawmakers could pretend to be absorbed with healthcare, before unveiling a workable proposal. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) killed it off, declaring it had no place in a special session.

Democrats and Republicans insist they are simply trying to defend themselves against each other, but they often look like cohorts in some nasty prank against voters. The parties' refusal to let go of self-interested districting validates that perception.

Faced with the churlishness shown to them by the state's political leadership, Californians periodically discover that their politicians are unruly brats and respond with well-intentioned but, in the end, self-defeating strategies to discipline them. Voters curb the Legislature's budget discretion with ill-considered spending mandates for schools and other programs. They limit the number of terms lawmakers can serve. Elected officials chafe against the new restrictions and demand to be treated like adults. But first they must act like adults, and there's no sign of that happening any time soon.

That's especially infuriating because, just a few months ago, an end to this adolescent legislative rebellion seemed at hand. Polls last year showed voters were impressed with Sacramento. More polls suggested they just might be ready to loosen term limits. Nuñez got a measure onto February's presidential primary ballot. Schwarzenegger agreed to go along -- but only if the Legislature got redistricting reform done as well.

It failed. Nuñez and Perata can say what they like -- the other guy started it, the dog ate their homework, whatever. We'll have to wait until February, when term limits are on the ballot but redistricting is not, to see whether voters fall for it.

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