SACRAMENTO — The chief cheerleader and fundraiser for Proposition 11, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has insisted that the push to change how voting districts are drawn is bipartisan. But the half-million dollars donated to the backers' campaign last week by Florida businessmen with Republican ties has fueled opponents' claims that it's a GOP power grab.
"Republicans from Florida are giving huge donations to this initiative for one reason," said Paul Hefner, spokesman for the campaign against the measure. "They're convinced it helps their cause and hurts Democrats."
At the posh Fort Lauderdale home of well-connected attorney and Republican backer Scott Rothstein, Schwarzenegger persuaded the Floridians to write checks of $2,500 to $250,000 to support Proposition 11, which would strip the Legislature of the power to draw its own districts and give the task to an independent commission.
In California, the top donors to the campaign for the measure are also loyal contributors to Republican causes.
Traditional backers of Democrats have kicked in nearly $1 million of the $13 million raised by Schwarzenegger and other proponents this year.
The good-government groups backing Proposition 11 say it's simply easier for Schwarzenegger to raise money from fellow Republicans. Furthermore, they say, campaign finance reports don't show all the work that AARP, California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have done touting the virtues of Proposition 11 to their millions of members of all political stripes.
"We believe that it is a really balanced, bipartisan campaign that includes individuals from both parties," said Jeannine English, AARP state director and a leader of the campaign for Proposition 11.
At least a couple of people who attended the Fort Lauderdale fundraiser said they donated because they like Schwarzenegger and see Proposition 11 as good reform.
"It sets a precedent for them to have a fair process regardless of who's in power," said Daniel Mink of Plantation, Fla., an owner of Renato Watch Co. and $5,000 donor. He said he is a registered Republican.
At stake with Proposition 11 is who controls the computer mouse in the once-a-decade job of rejiggering 120 legislative and four State Board of Equalization districts to make sure each has about the same number of people, based on fresh census data.
Redistricting is of keen concern to politicians. How the lines get drawn dictates how many Democratic, Republican and independent voters are in each district and, therefore, how hard politicians have to work to get elected.
Boundaries may be drawn to eliminate the home of an incumbent, perhaps putting him or her out of a job, or to position an Assembly member for an easy run for the state Senate. Often, districts are shaped to grab or exclude pockets of voters in a process called gerrymandering.
If Proposition 11 passes, California will become one of 13 states that give the job of redrawing legislative districts to a body other than the legislature. The initiative would set up a process, overseen by the state auditor, for choosing a 14-member panel from citizen applicants. The panel would have five Democrats, five Republicans and four others.
The initiative excludes congressional districts, whose lines would still be drawn by state lawmakers.
Proponents say the measure would eliminate the Legislature's conflict of interest in the task. A commission working without regard to the self-interest of politicians, they say, would more evenly balance districts between Democratic and Republican voters.
That would force political candidates to temper any ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative tendencies, they argue, and eventually produce a more centrist Legislature focused on problem-solving instead of partisanship.
It's not surprising that minority Republicans are more excited about Proposition 11 than Democrats, said UC Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain. "Why would the Democrats want to move from a position of control?" he said.
Hefner, the opponents' spokesman, said the measure is tilted to maximize Republican participation and minimize Democratic power.
"We've got 7 million-plus Democrats," he said, "we've got 5 million and shrinking Republicans in California, but Proposition 11 gives both of them equal weight."
That's good, argues Republican activist Jon Fleischman. He wrote on his Flashreport blog Thursday that "by passing Proposition 11, Californians will be making it possible to add more conservatives to the Legislature than ever before" by taking away "the left-wing partisan gerrymander of the Democrats."
Proposition 11, he said, would mean "more seats where the Republican can be competitive with the Democrat."
Though the California Democratic Party and some of its traditional supporters decry Proposition 11, they haven't invested much in its defeat. The campaign against the measure has raised less than $1 million this year, most of it from the party and unions for prison guards and government employees.
But some of the money the opposition does have recently bought space on a mailer that prompted proponents of the measure to allege doublespeak.
The brochure calls Proposition 11 a Democratic power grab and urges the mailer's Republican targets to stop a "hidden agenda to give liberal Democrats lifetime control of Congress."
"The 'No' campaign is really speaking out of both sides of its mouth," said English, the AARP director. "It's not a power grab for Democrats or Republicans. It's providing voters with a clear change."
A poll released this week by the Public Policy Institute of California found 41% of voters supporting Proposition 11, 34% opposed and 25% undecided.