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Prop. 11's point

November 25, 2008

Now that's a race. In the contest between Republican Tony Strickland and Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson for the 19th District state Senate seat, Strickland is hanging on to a razor-thin lead. Election workers in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties are still doing mandatory manual tallies and checking provisional ballots, but Strickland is holding steady at 50.2% of the vote to Jackson's 49.8%. More than 400,000 votes were cast Nov. 4 for the seat, but as of Monday, just 1,385 votes separated them.

This is just what we wanted, right? Two closely matched general-election candidates in a district not gerrymandered to serve merely Democrats or simply Republicans. With each nominee having a realistic shot at victory, the candidates presumably would have to make moderate appeals across party lines instead of running to their bases. We would end up with more lawmakers listening to a broader cross-section of their constituents and making laws in the interests of Californians as a whole instead of party leaders or ideological camps. Races would no longer be over after the primary.

That was the point behind Proposition 11, the redistricting measure also on the Nov. 4 ballot. By taking the task of drawing district lines away from the political parties, California is supposed to end up with a lot more of those evenly balanced districts.

Yet Strickland and Jackson ran old-school campaigns, slinging mud and running to their respective bases for funds, phone calls and precinct-walking. No matter who wins -- if Strickland holds on and brings his no-tax pledge to Sacramento, or if Jackson pulls ahead in the count and helps her party jettison the two-thirds budget-vote rule that for now gives Republicans disproportionate power -- the 19th Senate District will be represented by a candidate who shunned the middle and played to the base.

So was Proposition 11 a mistake? It too is a close call, and although it leads, counting continues. Perhaps voters should cross their fingers and hope it founders?

No. Proposition 11 isn't perfect, but it's a step forward.

After new census figures are in and a citizens commission concludes hearings and draws lines, California may at first have more races like Strickland's and Jackson's, but over time they are likely to change. Parties, donors and voters will see that their candidate, if he or she is to prevail in the general election, must have some crossover appeal. That won't by itself repair the broken system in Sacramento, but it's the needed beginning of reform that can return a semblance of sanity to California government.

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